When it comes to sauvignon blanc from the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand has become synonymous; Chile is also a player, with a range of good sauvignons in price and style; and now, Argentina can call itself a contender with a delicious and elegant $15 sauvignon blanc from the venerable Valentin Bianchi winery.
It is Easter Sunday, and I am enjoying a small glass of the 2004 sauvignon from Famiglia Bianchi, one of several labels under which this large, family-owned producer releases its wines.
This is a pretty aperitif wine with a good deal of complexity. Medium-bodied and crisp, it projects lemon and lime, pear and red grapefruit. It is slightly creamy from the fermentation of part of the wine in oak, which accentuates but doesn't dominate. (The rest is aged in stainless steel.) The finish is long, with a burst of minerals and refreshing acidity.
It will match well with broiled and sautéed fish, smoked salmon, shellfish and even Asian dishes, since the oak, which generally fights spicy foods, is just a punctuation mark here.
The wine is actually a blend of 96 percent sauvignon blanc and 4 percent chardonnay, which was used to soften things a bit and was substituted in this vintage for sémillon, the usual blending partner for sauvignon. The chardonnay works very well.
Only one quibble: the packaging. This wine and others under the Famiglia Bianchi label come with a useless white plastic mesh wrapper placed over the bottles, which is an attempt, I guess, to include a decorative flourish. It's a minor point and does nothing to detract from the wine, but it’s a bit silly. (How about eliminating it and knocking 50 cents or so off the price?)
Bianchi’s wines are from the San Rafael area of Mendoza, Argentina’s largest wine region. Out of curiosity, I took a look back at what the noted wine writer Hugh Johnson had to say about Argentina 20 years ago in the third edition of his “World Atlas of Wine.” The country was (and still is) considered a red wine bastion. Back then, Johnson dismissed most of the whites as “just strong and dry, without the aromas of fruit.”
Clearly, that is no longer always the case, as demonstrated by Famiglia Bianchi’s excellent 2004 sauvignon.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. Write to him at EdwardDeitch