Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Sauvignon blanc is an all-weather wine. In the heat of the summer, its zesty, fruity character is a welcome refreshment. Come fall and winter, it is the go-to wine for fresh Dungeness crab. Yet despite the variety’s seasonal flexibility, there is no denying that spring triggers an almost primal desire for its wines.

Sauvignon blanc is the wine equivalent of throwing up the window sash and letting in fresh air and tingling breezes. It is the wine that most expresses our excitement that spring has returned once again.

The St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Vintners Tasting Panel met this month at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to taste 30 Napa Valley sauvignon blanc wines and review the current 2013 and 2014 vintages.

In their discussion following the blind tasting, panelists commented on the grape variety, vintages, wine styles and market for sauvignon blanc.

Confirming a style progression occurring over the past couple of years, the wines showed a purity of fruit, forgoing oak-influenced flavors as a noticeable part of the taste profile.

John Skupny of Lang & Reed was impressed with the wines overall and believes that sauvignon blanc expresses Napa Valley — the different soil types, microclimates — more than chardonnay. “It is an ancient grape, and it shows where it is from, how it is made,” Skupny said.

Bill Dyer of Dyer Vineyards agreed, saying that “sauvignon blanc is very transparent” and the differences between producers reflect winemaking style and climate differences.

Commenting on the intense, pungent, grassy-tropical fruit-flavored sauvignon blanc that New Zealand has been known for, New Zealand guest panelist Warren Gibson from Hawkes Bay’s Trinity Hill winery likened that sauvignon blanc style to “walking into a room with the stereo on too loud,” and explained: “Good sauvignon blanc does not have to be too loud. There is a move to a more complex style” in New Zealand, and perhaps here as well.

Kristin Belair, winemaker at Honig, commented that sauvignon blanc is making a name for itself in Napa Valley. Kyrsta Scully confirmed consumers’ demand for sauvignon blanc, saying it outsells chardonnay and any other white varietal at Indian Springs Calistoga, where she is director of the resort’s food and beverage program.

Prices of the wines tasted ranged from $18 to $75 and Hugh Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards commented that “price doesn’t always define quality.” David Stevens of St. Helena’s 750 Wines commented that good sauvignon blanc can be found in the $18 to $22 range. His favorites were those with personality, with expressive flavors.

Mike Conversano, on the winemaking team at Pine Ridge, discussed the difference between the two vintages and believes that with its extra aging time, the flavors of the 2013 sauvignon blancs are amplified. There is less variance, he thought, in the 2014 vintage wines.

Whether you find the 2013 or 2014 vintage on store shelves or restaurant lists, there are a large number of delicious Napa Valley sauvignon blanc wines in the market to choose from. Panelists selected the following as the top sauvignon blancs from the tasting:

{!—BC Bold—}Cornerstone Cellars 2013 Sauvignon blanc, Napa Valley ($30)

Always a crowd-pleaser, this wine’s pale lemon color belies a fruit bowl of flavors including ripe pear, peach and tropical fruits, with a squeeze of lemon on the finish. The winemaking team now includes Kari Auringer, who shows a gift for making sauvignon blanc wines of balance and flavor. She has been called a garagiste, making small lots of very fine wines.

{!—BC Bold—}Malk Family Vineyards 2013 Sauvignon blanc, Oak Knoll District ($29.50)

From South Africa with grapegrowing roots, Brian Malk and his wife Nancy chose their Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Griffin, as the logo for their brand. While their beloved terrier has passed away, the couple likens the wines they craft to his bold and characterful personality. This sauvignon blanc is a rich blend of stone fruit and lemon citrus with medium acidity.

{!—BC Bold—}Cliff Lede Vineyards 2014 Sauvignon blanc, Napa Valley ($25)

The Cliff Lede sauvignon blanc has lively fruit flavors of apricot, peach and pear, tangerine citrus and a hint of mixed herbs. These flavors cling to the palate on a deliciously long, lingering finish. Owner Cliff Lede works with powerhouses David Abreu, Chris Tynan and Remi Cohen to produce the winery’s lineup of premium wines.

{!—BC Bold—}Salvestrin 2014 LeBlanc Crystal Springs Vineyard, St. Helena ($24)

The Salvestrins fell in love with their Napa Valley property back in 1932. Part of the land they purchased was that of Dr. Crane, planted in 1858 by this early Napa Valley grapegrowing pioneer. Ripe red apple, guava, pear and peach fruit and a blend of citrus flavors made this wine a winner at the tasting.

{!—BC Bold—}BRYTER Estates 2013 Sauvignon blanc, Rutherford ($32)

The name of this wine, Vivant, is the first indication of the festive nature of this winery. While the founder’s last name, Ignozzi, means “fiery” in Latin, they produce this wine to cool things down. This is a brightly aromatic sauvignon blanc with grapefruit, lemon-lime zest and a refreshing purity of fruit (stone fruits). As they say on their website, “cheers to the Bryter side of life!” Indeed.

{!—BC Bold—}Montgomery Vineyard 2013 Sauvignon blanc, Napa Valley ($18)

The Montgomery property in northern Calistoga was first and foremost a family home — a place for playing ball and swimming. This retreat looks to have served the owners well; big smiles greet you on the home page of their website, inviting you in. This sauvignon blanc is the liquid equivalent of those big smiles: vibrant flavors of red apple, cinnamon, pear and peach fruit with a touch of white pepper on the finish. The winemaker is Robbie Meyer.

{!—BC Bold—}Eleven Eleven 2014 Sauvignon blanc, Rutherford ($35)

Ellie Anest and Aurelien Roulin first met on an international flight, and teamed up with Carol Vassiliadis to create their urban-chic winery in Napa. Kirk Venge brings his star power to the team as winemaker. The Eleven Eleven sauvignon blanc has expressive flavors of apricot, peach, ripe pear and citrus with a long, lingering finish.

{!—BC Bold—}Swanson Vineyards 2014 Sauvignon blanc, Oakville ($35)

It has a blend of citrus, fresh grass and tropical fruit. One of the wineries to gain the talents of famed winemaking consultant Andre Tchelistcheff, the wines are now under the expert palate of Chris Phelps, trained at Bordeaux’s Chateau Petrus, at Dominus and Caymus.

{!—BC Bold—}Twomey Cellars 2014 Sauvignon blanc, Napa Valley ($25)

This is full of fresh, ripe pear and lemon citrus zest. The winery was created to explore Napa Valley wines made with fruit other than cabernet sauvignon. The winery produces merlot and pinot noir in addition to this tasty sauvignon blanc.

With such a wide range of refreshing, fruity sauvignon blanc available, which will you choose to open up those shutters and let in the outdoors?

{!—BC Emph—}Catherine Bugue, the Star’s tasting panel columnist, loves writing about — and drinking — wine. You can contact Catherine at Only wines from Napa Valley Vintner member wineries are accepted and tasted. Many wineries offer local residents discounts on their wines through the Napa Neighbor program, visit and click on Napa Neighbor to learn more.


Load comments