John Buechsenstein has cheese on his mind. We are meeting for dinner at Artisanal, a New York restaurant known for its cheeses, and Buechsenstein clearly has an agenda. As a partner in Sauvignon Republic Cellars, he wants to demonstrate, in case I have any doubts, that cheese with sauvignon blanc is a match made in food and wine heaven. Contrary to what many people believe, white wines tend to go better with cheeses than reds.
Buechsenstein has spent decades as a winemaker and educator in California and, four years ago, began a new venture with three partners in the wine and restaurant businesses. They called it Sauvignon Republic. As the name suggests, sauvignon blanc is the sole focus of their effort, and not just sauvignon from California but from all over the world.
A year ago, I reviewed their 2005 Russian River Valley Sauvignon from California and gave it high praise. Sauvignon Republic also has wines from the Marlborough region of New Zealand and Stellenbosch in South Africa. As we sit down, Buechsenstein pulls the ’06 vintages of those two out of a bag and we begin our tasting of the $18 wines.
With his gray beard and inquisitive yet casual style, Buechsenstein looks the part of a college professor and goes by the cleverly hip title of “chief explorer” of the company. He spends much of his time on the road, scouting for potential additions to the portfolio (France, Chile, Austria, Italy and Slovenia are under consideration) and closely overseeing production by the wineries with which Sauvignon Republic contracts to make its current line, in New Zealand, South Africa and California.
“Do you like fondue?” he asks as we look over the menu. How retro, I think to myself, but why not? The melted cheese — we order a piercingly sharp Keen’s cheddar from England — is perfect on this chilly night, and before long we’re stabbing our long fondue forks into little squares of crusty bread and dipping them into the delectable, golden goo. The South African sauvignon, with its notes of pink grapefruit, pineapple, herbs and pronounced minerals, is a refreshing counterpoint to the hot cheese and isn’t about to be overpowered by it. The wine is highly expressive yet elegant.
Cheese course number two arrives. This time it’s a plate of three goat cheeses, one from Spain, a Chèvre from France’s Loire Valley and a wedge of Humboldt Fog from California. Buechsenstein twists the metal cap off the New Zealand sauvignon (they all come with the closure).
This attractive wine is less aggressive than many New Zealand sauvignons. Buechsenstein has crafted it that way, preferring a slightly softer, more muted style that is less green and less acidic. "You only appreciate that racy acidity the first few sips, then it gets old," he says of typical New Zealand sauvignon. It’s a matter of preference, but I happen to agree with his assertion. The wine shows more tropical fruit than the tart gooseberry that characterizes most Kiwi sauvignons. The wine pairs beautifully with the goat cheeses. Beyond cheese, both wines will match well with fish, including sushi, and chicken.
There is, of course, a lot of gimmickry in the wine business these days — novel approaches to marketing what often turn out to be mediocre wines. John Buechsenstein and his partners had one of those ideas with Sauvignon Republic Cellars, but in their case the idea is backed up by wines of distinction. For more information on Sauvignon Republic you can go to its Web site at sauvignonrepublic.com.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at