There is no better time than right now to enjoy one of this country’s real wine values — sauvignon blanc from California. The grape produces fresh, racy wines that match well with a variety of foods, and there is no shortage of fine sauvignon blancs for under $20.
I’ve been trying a bunch of sauvignons from the 2007 vintage in recent weeks and have found a number of standouts, while some, of course, are less interesting. The good news is that the wines are inexpensive enough so that you can pick out several and see which ones appeal to you.
Sauvignon blanc makes for good summer drinking because it tends to be somewhat lighter and leaner than California chardonnay (with a bit less alcohol) and is not, in general, as heavily influenced by oak. Producers seem divided on barrel aging, with roughly half the bottles I sample receiving it and the rest aged in stainless-steel tanks.
Some purists shun any wood in sauvignon blanc (you’ll rarely find it in wines from New Zealand or France’s Loire Valley, although it is common in Bordeaux). I don’t mind it if used with subtlety; otherwise you can find yourself with sauvignon blanc dressed in chardonnay clothing.
Careful use of oak gives sauvignon blanc a bit more richness, if that’s what you like, typically showing itself with a hint of creamy vanilla. But again, not overdoing it is the key, and at least a couple of the California wines I tried were guilty of an over-oaked style that made them seem heavy and obscured their fruit.
There were two, however, that I especially liked, one from Charles Krug, the venerable Napa Valley property run by the Peter Mondavi family, the other from the Kunde Estate in Sonoma.
Krug’s 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, with a suggested price of $18, is one of those wines that jumps out of the glass when you first taste it and makes you say to yourself, “Now this is interesting.” With its long finish, this lively sauvignon is marked by notes of pink grapefruit, melon, guava, minerals and a touch of green pepper. It’s well balanced and original. It’s made without oak.
Kunde’s 2007 Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc, at $16, also has classic aromas of grapefruit, while in the mouth I got a burst of ripe yellow peach and a slight grassiness that make this wine exceptionally smooth and balanced as well. It’s a blend of 87 percent sauvignon blanc, nine percent semillon and four percent viognier, and five percent of the wine was aged in oak, which, in this case, contributes to its complexity but doesn’t call attention to itself.
These wines are a natural for all kinds of shellfish, from raw oysters and clams to grilled shrimp with a lime-soy marinade. Consider them as well for simply broiled fish and chicken on the grill. They demonstrate well why sauvignon blanc is a great wine for summer.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at