Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The White Savage

Summer is coming. As I write this, it feels like it's already here. But the forecast is that it'll be raining when you read this. So, summer is coming. Eventually.

And when summer finally does arrive, your average Chicoan will trade in their wine bottle for an ice cold Summerfest. But it doesn't have to be that way. It's true that hot weather isn't red wine weather, but there are plenty of cool, refreshing white wines out there to keep you inebriated all summer long. One of my personal favorites is sauvignon blanc.

Sauvignon blanc (SO-veen-yon BLAHN) hails from the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions of France, but is grown in most wine producing regions of the world. California and New Zealand are particularly known for sauvignon blanc. The name roughly translates to "wild white" - from "sauvage", the French word for wild. But though the sauvignon blanc grape may be descended from wild grapes, it's not a wildly flavored wine. In fact, it is one of the lightest wines out there. Poorer sauvignon blancs can be weak to the point that they look and taste like water.

Flavor-wise, sauvignon blancs typically aren't hugely fruity. Where a Riesling might hit you over the head with a truckload of apricot and green apple, sauvignon blancs are often more herbaceous, with grassy notes. The most infamous characteristic of some sauvignon blancs is a pronounced aroma of cat pee. Yum! Pour me a tall steaming glass o' that!

In reality, of course, sauvignon blanc doesn't actually taste like cat pee (though it's a valid point that I don't really know that for a fact, even though I've owned several cats). Typically, sauvignon blancs are dry (not at all sweet), and have light citrus and herb notes, and a nice tart acidity that makes them very refreshing on a hot summer day. For my money, I'd rather have a sauvignon blanc than a chardonnay any day, but then I don't make any bones about not liking most chardonnays.

Geyser Peak 2005 California Sauvignon Blanc

This sauvignon blanc bucks the trend with strong sweet aromas of nectartine, apricot and lemon peel. Smells very refreshing. On the palate, it's a bit tart, but with no hint of the sweetness on the nose. Citrusy, lemon peel flavors dominate, to the point of being almost too strong. However, the tartness and acidity gave it a backbone that goes fantastically with food. Not a sipping wine; definitely a food wine. Available at Cost Plus. 3.25 stars.

Kim Crawford 2006 Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand is the "in" place for sauv blanc these days, and Kim Crawford is a nearly ubiquitous label. Much milder nose than the Geyser Peak, with just a hint of green apple and citrus. On the tongue, it's a more full bodied wine, with notes of apricot and spice. Not as bitter as the Geyser Peak, but not as complex or refreshing either. Available at Cost Plus. 3 stars.

Chateau St. Jean 2005 Sonoma County Fumé Blanc

The name “fumé blanc” was made up by Robert Mondavi for an oaky sauvignon blanc that he produced – “fumé” meaning smoky in French. The name has stuck, but the meaning has gotten blurred. Some fumé blancs are pure sauvignon blanc, and some are blends of sauvignon blanc with other white grapes like Semillon.

The Chateau St. Jean is one of the blends, but it has much more typical sauvignon blanc characteristics than either of the first two wines. A bit herby on the nose, with less fruit than the first two wines. Definitely more grassy and hay-like. On the palate the herbaceousness carries through. Crisp, and full-bodied, with a smooth finish. Nice. Available at most grocery stores. 3.25 stars.

Chateau Marjosse 2003 Entre Deux Mers

This french sauvignon blanc from Bordeaux is very different from any of the other wines. More full-bodied and a deeper yellow. On the nose, clearly a more serious wine with less fruit and a more straw-like aroma, with a touch of dried peach and just a hint of that yummy cat pee. On the palate, very dry, firm and complex, slightly tart with a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Overall, this wine is in a different class than the others and can hold its own as a sipping wine or as a food wine. Available at Vino 100. 3.5 stars.


If you've never tried a sauvignon blanc, head out to your favorite wine shop and pick up a bottle. Stuff it in the back of the fridge and wait for a nice hot summer day. Then pull that puppy out and salud!

No comments: