Sauvignon Blanc (Older Newsletter)

#104 – September 3, 2009

You know when something’s time has obviously passed but one nonetheless tries to cling to it for dear life so as not to let it go? Think aging men with (badly) dyed hair or comb overs or the aging mom who dresses (and parties) like she is 22. Notwithstanding the possibility of such a perception fueled by the recent cooling of the weather here in New York obviously indicating that summer has now passed on by, I am steadfastly clinging to the concept that summer isn’t over until Labor Day and utilizing this last pre-fall newsletter to talk about one more classic summer wine – Sauvignon Blanc. Next week’s newsletter will have my annual pre Rosh Hashana wine purchasing guide.

To me Sauvignon Blanc is a classic summer wine. It is crisp, clean and refreshing and is a great match with many classic summer foods like poached salmon and cold (leftover) chicken salad. A well made Sauvignon Blanc actually tastes like summer – melon, citrus, freshly cut grass and sunshine. While some folks prefer the grassy aromas and flavors to be muted, I prefer them to be bursting with summertime flavor. When I crack open a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc at the end (or in the middle) of a hot summer day, I look forwarded to the immediate transportation to a better place – the middle of a freshly rained on field covered in green. Show me a brooding Cabernet that can do that for you! The fabulous combination of crisp acidity, youth (always look for the youngest Sauvignon Blanc you can find) and grassiness make Sauvignon Blanc a delightful and refreshing summer quencher. Good food pairings include fish and cheese (Chèvre makes for a heavenly pairing). In addition to the classic spicy Gewürztraminer pairing, Sauvignon Blanc also happens to be one of the few wines that pairs well with sushi.

Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape variety which originates from the Bordeaux region of France. The origin of the name is derived from the French words sauvage (“wild”) and blanc (“white”) due to its early origins as an indigenous grape in South West France. Sauvignon Blanc is widely cultivated in France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, California, and South America. Depending on climate, the flavor can range from aggressively grassy to sweetly tropical. One of characteristics vintners like most about Sauvignon Blanc is its extreme versatility which allows for the grape to be utilized is so many different types of this wine. In addition to its geographic location, the grape-making methodology contributes heavily to the variation on style – when aged in oak barrels the wine takes on a creamy richness whereas if aged in stainless steel tanks, the pure fruity flavors of the grape are better preserved resulting in a more tropical wine. Many winemakers utilize both methods.

Some very famous wines are made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. These include sweet wines (such as the famous dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac which include the fabulous Château d’Yquem considered by some to be the greatest wine in the world) and dry ones (like Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre – whose Sauvignon Blanc character is enhanced by the fabulous wine growing soil riddled with limestone and chalk). Sauvignon Blanc also sometimes goes by the nom de guerre Fumé Blanc or Blanc Fumé (the Dalton Sauvignon Blanc Fumé, a good example of this genre, used to be one of my all time favorite wines).

Below I have reviewed a number of (mostly) Israeli Sauvignon Blancs. While New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is more famous, California Sauvignon Blanc tends to be “Chardonayized”. There are those who feel that many US producers of Sauvignon Blanc are trying to weed out some of the delightful characteristics of the varietal and make it like the popular Chardonnay (Chardonnay is by far the most popular white wine sold in the US today).

While I usually do not put a whole lot of importance on vintage years with respect to Israeli wines, due to the relatively consistent weather in Israel year in and year out, other than to highly recommend drinking wines within their projected drinking windows, the Sauvignon Blanc grape flourishes in warm weather and the hotter the summer, the riper and juicier the Sauvignon Blancs from that vintage year will be so the year actually matters more. As always, an important thing to note is that, here in America, due to various importing laws, numerous white wines are sold past their peak and one should try to always purchase the latest available vintage of white or Rosé wine one purchases. I note that a number of these recommended wines are from the 2008 vintage which was a Shmittah year.

Have a great Holiday Weekend and Shabbat Shalom,

Yarden, Sauvignon Blanc, 2008: Yarden is producing some incredible wines and, partially due to these wines and the vast portfolio of wines produced, the more “regular” wines tend to get left behind which, as you can see in the case of this particular wine, is a crying shame. A classic example of Sauvignon Blanc – crisp, refreshing with loads of the characteristic grassiness, this wine is medium-bodied and delightful. Plenty of acidity makes the limes, lemons, green apples and freshly cut grass really dance in your mouth. A medium length finish nicely rounds out this wine.

Ella Valley Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, 2008: Ella Valley in one of my favorite wineries and it is continuingly proving that it can turn out not only top-notch, expensive, “upper class” wines (such as those in its “Vineyards Choice” series) but also interesting and delightful wines that are also very affordable. This vintage is actually blended with some Semillon which gives it a little more character and is loaded with the aromas and flavors of passion fruit, limes, grapefruit and kiwis and tantalizes with hints of blooming fields of flowers. A ‘green’ and crisp wine with a somewhat steely grassy finish. A young, lively and fun wine, but with the complexity and class to be so much more than just an end-of-the-summer fling.

Hagafen, Napa Valley, Sauvignon Blanc, 2007: One of my “go-to” wines in US restaurants which is usually sold by the glass. A reliable wine that, while not overly exciting, is a good match for food and well priced. On the first whiff you get a lot of not-unpleasant yeast which rapidly dissipates into loads of citrus, peaches, papaya, grapefruit and mangos. A fresh and lively wine with a ton of acidity on the finish that is nicely balanced by the oakiness.

Yatir, Sauvignon Blanc, 2008: The red wines of this winery get a lot of attention and justifiably so but Yatir’s Sauvignon Blanc should be a serious contender for some generous space allocation in your cellar. A superstar wine year after year, this latest vintage doesn’t disappoint. A complex and layered wine with hints of pineapple, citrus, stone fruit and sea breeze on the nose with hints on the palate all highlighted by more muted than usual grassiness and tinged with flintiness. Enough acidity to keep the wine lively will also enable this one to cellar for 2 years or so. One of the best Sauvignon Blancs I have tasted and enough to make any of you self-professed “I only drink red wine” folks change their tune – a great wine!

Carmel, Sauvignon Blanc, Appellation, 2008: An unoaked version making this wine even more refreshing. Bursting with citrus, melons and passion fruit tinged with a not unpleasant bitterness giving the wine just enough edge. A great match with food and an easy-drinking wine.