Summer’s Here and the time is right for Sauvignon Blanc

When I’m not reluctantly refraining from wine in preparation for cross-mountain marathons, summer finds me in the mood for Sauvignon Blanc. It’s the perfect warm weather white wine – crisp, refreshing, loaded with citrus and often tropical fruit flavors, food-friendly (especially with salads and green vegetables), and with ample body. What more could a wine loving vegetarian ask for at sun-down?

So through the early summer, I’ve been working my way around the Sauvignon Blanc world, focusing on the 2005 vintage, revisiting a couple of tried and tested bottles along the way. The result? The vintage seems to have worked out just great for this grape almost anywhere you look.

Take for example, the Château Haut-Frand-Champ 2005 Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc produced by “Mr Flaujac in Ladaux” from “Wine issued from grapes produced in a certified sustainable agriculture estate.” (Wine drinkers often forget that white Bordeauxs, while often heavy in the Semillon grape, can also be exclusively Sauvignon Blanc, as with this Bordeaux blanc from the 2004 vintage that I recently reviewed.) Only a fraction above $10, it was a very light yellow-green color, suggesting something almost ephemeral, but its softness was delightfully delicate, and unmistakably Sauvignon Blanc with green, grassy gooseberry citrus aromas. “Not as distinct or redolent as a good Loire, “ I wrote, “but has the crisp acidity, a nice little lime-grapefruit kick on the palate, holds well and finishes bright. Not a wine you would kick out of bed on a hot summer’s day.” (Why anyone would be staying in bed drinking wine on a hot summer’s day I did not note.)

Up in the Loire itself – which I consider the spiritual home for Sauvignon Blanc, and where I had some odd experiences with the 2004s (and only a fool would buy the 2003s), – I found much greater success with the Domaine Girard Sancerre La Garenne. A clear yellow-green color, it exploded with those typically Loire gooseberry-like aromas and followed through with what I can only call a “green” taste – nettles and freshly cut grass and asparagus and the like. All in a good way, I should add. These can be “sharp” wines for some people, but to me the Loire Sauvignon Blancs deliver such a crisp yet refined taste that they’re the nearest I come to swilling white wine – and if you haven’t tried the classic combo of Sancerre and chevre (goat’s cheese), you haven’t lived.

Two splendid 2005 Sauvignon Blancs, the left of which is the archetypal Sancerre, the right of which is an atypically pure California rendition.

Over to the States now, I went back to the Honig Sauvignon Blanc from California’s Napa Valley, too and the 2005 reminded me why I first fell in love with this wine. Though Napa might seem too hot for SB, the Honig family gets the balance right: “Lightish yellow-green,” I wrote on tasting, “has kiwi pineapple orange blossom lime aromas, solid acidity and a very full body that is clingingly citrusy, with a bright kick on the back palate. Very grassy, grapefruity. Bright as anything and certainly, this time out, more Down Under than Loire. Gorgeous wine.” I recall the wife emitting some kind of rather sensual sound the moment it kissed her lips. I guess that’s what you call passing the taste test. And at $15, it also registers as a bargain. (The Reserve – previously reviewed here – is a few dollars more, and a bigger, bolder wine. It’s difficult to choose between them.)

From even closer to home, I paid near enough $20 – which is a lot – for the Macari Sauvignon Blanc Katherine’s Field from the North Fork of Long Island, here in New York State. After being labeled America’s best ever Sauvignon Blanc by the NY Times on release of its first vintage just a few years ago, the Macari Sauvignon Blanc was initially confined to those who could secure it on release. But the winery now seems to be making enough of it to keep in stock; I’ve picked up bottles of the last two vintages in NYC stores without much fuss. I remember sharing the 2004 with some friends and we couldn’t but remark on how incredibly tart and green we found it; my notes from this 2005 suggest an initially similar experience, one that might be explained by the young vines. “So clear as to be almost translucent with just a touch of green hue,” I noted. “But has a vibrant gooseberry lime pineapple aroma. The acidity damn tingles on the tongue, with the kind of tang that reminds you of a New Zealand SB. Very green on palate, mostly fizz and grass with a mineral kick at the back that’s almost oaky? Over-rated on first taste.”
So there you go. Or so you’d think. “Curiously though, on second day,” my notes then read, “this wine feels like a winner, like it’s opened up and displays elegance and class. Couldn’t get enough of it on the second day wherein it really felt like the right cross between NZ, NY and Loire.”
That the wine opened up so much over 24 hours indicates, indeed, a certain finesse. I still can’t explain that odd taste at the back of the palate, which I remember from the 2004 vintage too. The Macari web site suggests there’s a taste of thyme in this wine; if I go back to it, I’ll see if that’s what I think of. Perhaps Katherine’s Field – which was, most likely, if other LI vineyards are anything to go by, formerly a potato field – has its own terroir. In which case, there’s plenty hope for the North Fork yet.

Expensive but expressive: the Macari Sauvignon Blanc has an unusual flavor to it.

Finally, I had expected more finesse from the Kim Crawford 2005 Sauvignon Blanc hailing from New Zealand’s Marlborough region, which many populists consider the greatest source for Sauvignon Blanc on the planet. For while I experienced the tropical aromas that are typical of Kiwi wines (oh yes, and I experienced kiwis too), I quickly came to the same conclusion as when I first wrote about a NZ Sauvignon Blanc on this site. That if this wine was any more fizzy, it could have been canned and sold as Lilt. It’s not that I believe NZ wines are over-rated – I heartily recommend the Goldwater Dog Point, also from Marlborough – but some of them are certainly over the top. This may be natural – the same way so many Californian wines are inherently high in alcohol – or it may be the local producers trying to pack too much flavor into one bottle. Still, four out of five ain’t bad. And, so far as the white wines go in general and the Sauvignon Blancs in particular, 2005 looks near enough a guarantee of quality from several different continents. I’m dying for a glass just writing about it.

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