CLEVELAND, Ohio — For wine drinkers, few varietals beat the heat better than a dry Sauvignon Blanc in summer.
Full disclosure: This is not a go-to wine for me. But the more I try, the many variations I find, especially by region.
Here are a few things to know about the varietal followed by our tasting panel’s comments on 32 bottles, with prices and brief flavor profiles:
How do you say it? SEW-vin-yawn BLAHNK.
What it is
The white wine, indigenous to France, is among the thousands of varietals of vitis vinifera. Its name is derived from the French “sauvage” —”wild.” It can grow out of control without oversight. The comprehensive Wine Bible calls California’s Sauv Blancs “snappy and citrusy” and “remarkably underappreciated.” But it is an acquired taste and can be very acidic. Some drinkers find it not to their liking while others gravitate to it as the perfect sipper in hot weather. It’s the world’s eighth most planted grape variety, Vine Pair says. France is tops in Sauv Blanc production.
Did you know? Sauvignon Blanc was crossed with Cabernet Franc to produce Cabernet Sauvignon.
Extremely food friendly. Think a variety of cheeses, seasoned shrimp, salads, dishes with lemon in them. It’s also a rare varietal that can stand up to and even match well with asparagus, a food item that often doesn’t play well with wine. Wine Folly has a smart rule of thumb: “Sauvignon Blanc with its herbaceous notes pairs well with similar green herbs. If it has parsley, rosemary, basil, cilantro or mint, chances are Sauvignon Blanc will make a great pairing.”
Flavors to expect
Grapefruit often is dominant. Grassy flavors are often detected in ones from New Zealand and Australia. Some people even use “cat pee” as a—believe it or not—positive descriptor for some Sauvignon Blancs. Making this wine with unripened grapes can lead to an overly vegetal taste. Mellower versions come from warm climates, like California.
Wine Folly offers a smart primer on Sauvignon Blanc.
Wine drinkers! If you like … Dry Riesling, try Sauvignon Blanc.
Beer drinkers! If you like … India Pale Ales, try Sauvignon Blanc.
If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try … Gruner Veltliner, Verdejo, Albarino.
Up in fume
Occasionally you will see ‘Fume’ on a label. It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, and a preferred term used by Dry Creek Vineyard and Robert Mondavi to note a slight, pleasing smoky characteristic.
Expect to pay
Under $20. On rare occasions we see a Sauvignon Blanc above $25, but the majority are priced in the mid-teens. (The wines we tasted range from $10 to $30.)
Here’s our tasting panel’s guide to 32 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc, with origin and prices, and all should be available for retail sale in the Northeast Ohio market. We tried wines from five countries and the four most recent vintages. From most expensive to least:
Stags’ Leap Winery, California, 2018, $30
It’s nice to see a well-regarded, high-end winery in California offering more than just a Cab, blend and a Char. This Sauv Blanc has restrained grapefruit with notes of pineapple and tangerine along with a bit of oak to balance things out.
Kim Crawford Signature Reserve
Kim Crawford Wines, Marlborough, New Zealand; 2017, $25
Herbal and fresh cut grass in the nose with lime. Fruit, including lime, rears up on the palate with a grassiness on a long finish. Our tasting panel enjoyed this one; I even found it drinkable despite the region’s grassy flavors.
Rombauer Vineyards, California, 2017, 2018, 2019; $20-$25
We did a vertical tasting. The 2017 and ‘18 are from Napa Valley while the 2019 is 64% Napa and 36% Sonoma.
2017: Notes of dill, herby, great with seasoned (basil, lemon, garlic) shrimp dish.
2018: Fruit is ripe and fresh, and this wine opened more than the other two with a bit of time, also great with food.
2019: By far the most fruit out of the trio, with apricot and peach in particular shining through. Candied notes also emerge. We found this to be our favorite as a stand-alone of the three.
Groth Vineyards, California, 2017, $24
Kiwi and lime in both aroma and on the palate but not super acidic. So a good stand-alone sipper. Nice to have fruit come through without an ultra acidic or harsh-tasting version of the varietal.
Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc
Robert Mondavi Winery, Fume Blanc, Napa Valley, California; 2016 ($22), 2017 ($24), 2018 ($23).
All improved with a little breathing time. The first two have a healthy dose of grapefruit but are fresh-tasting, not pithy. All are wonderful sippers.
2016: Lime, not too grassy.
2017: Lime on the finish, smooth, not grassy or overly acidic. Tastes like a blend more than a Sauvignon Blanc. Loved this one.
2018: Lemon, orange peel, pear. Enough acid to stand up to food. Very drinkable.
Nobilo, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2017, $22
This really is a classic New Zealand version of the varietal. Grapefruit, lemon, pithy, grass, green pepper, tangy and—for some—refreshing. Compare this to the Sunday Funday Sauv Blanc to find two very wide-ranging examples of Sauvignon Blanc. Catherine Fallis’ book “Ten Grapes to Know” calls the Marlborough region the “engine room” of New Zealand wine.
Geyser Peak Wines, River Ranches, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, California, 2016, $22
We did not do the two Geyser Peaks side by side. This one has strong, clean, fresh, pithy grapefruit in the nose. But it’s not exclusively grapefruit. It packs a fruit wallop, with peach and lemon coming out to show it’s not a one-trick pony. A lot of fruit here in every sip. But we found the 2016 counterpart from Geyser Peak a better value.
Both are fairly equal, though I am surprised at the price difference—$22 vs. $12.
Long Meadow Ranch
longmeadowranch.com, Napa Valley, California; 2017, $22
Fresh lime and lemon, a bit tart and even puckering, like you had licked a lemon. No grass at all, not harsh at all. Very balanced and mellow for a Sauvignon Blanc.
Abbazia di Novacella
Abbazia di Novacella Stiftskellerei Neustift, Alto Adige, Italy; 2018, $20.22
Floral, grapefruit, melon, a little peach, tangerine. Very balanced, and no one flavor overwhelms. Just a little minerally, which is to be expected from this region, with almost a hint of slate. Good acidity. This was delicious alone but would go well with food.
Tabor Winery, Israel, 2017, $20
Clean-tasting lemon but no grapefruit, very smooth, not grassy or harsh at all. Floral notes with a smidgen of peach. We found this wine to be closer to a Dry Riesling. Well done, great food wine.
Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Dry Creek Vineyard, California; 2016 and 2017, $20
We tried a side-by-side of Sauvignon Blancs from this venerable winery. Grapefruit in both. (Note: This particular wine might be via online sales only.)
2016: Tart, pungent, grassy in the nose and palate—surprisingly for a California version of this varietal.
2017: Mellow, much more lemon in this vintage.
Beringer Bros. Tequila Barrel-Aged
Beringer Bros., California, 2017, $17
This one was a surprise. We steeled ourselves to be, well, disgusted, but the tequila is very faint. Very smooth, no crazy flavors, not grassy or harsh, and very smooth. The finish has a faint bit of Tequila, but it’s not too overdone. Stood up well to salad with bacon and vinaigrette dressing.
Rutherford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc
Rutherford Ranch Family Vineyards, Napa Valley, California; 2018, $16
Definitely not a grass-and-grapefruit bomb. This is much more lemony and fairly mellow for the varietal, as often is the case with a well-made California example of Sauvignon Blanc. White flowers on the nose with melon and stone-fruit flavors. Good value.
Zanon Wine Portfolio, California, 2018, $16
Lime on nose, orange or tangerine peel emerges instead of the usual grapefruit. Dry and long finish. Very smooth, not grassy or too acidic, definitely not harsh. Zanon is always a great bet. Scott Zanon, by the way, hails from Columbus. Good value.
Avalon Flint and Steel
Avalon Winery, Napa Valley, California; 2019, $15.99
Lime and peach flavors come out right away on the palate. Dry, drinkable acid on the end, delicious wine. Went well before dinner and with backed turkey and potatoes.
Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc
Bonterra Wine, California, NV, four-pack of 250ml cans for $20 (equivalent of $15 for a 750ml bottle).
This organic wine has that fresh kiwi tartness with a green aroma—meaning under ripe fruit. Overall, we thought this was a pleasant little sipper with no off flavors.
Dry Creek Fume Blanc
Dry Creek Vineyard, California; 2017 ($15) and 2018 ($16)
Tough to tell a difference between these two, but we did: All four of our tasting-panel members nailed the blind taste test on this pair. Both are a great value.
2017: Pear and lime are dominant flavors.
2018: A little more pithy lime on the finish, more tropical on the nose with mango.
Steele Wines, Lake County, California; $15
2017: More grassy, vegetal, lime. Less fruity and more acidic.
2018: White peach. Not a lot of grapefruit. More tropical fruit. Good value at $15.
2019: Similar to the ‘18 and very drinkable.
B.R. Cohn Winery, Sonoma County, California; 2018, $15
Smooth with fresh fruit, definitely not a big acidic bomb.
Justin Winery, Central Coast, California; 2019, $15
Very balanced, good example of a California SB. Peach, fresh fruit flavors, a bit of tangerine, great as a stand-alone, common menu find.
Waipapa Bay, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand; 2018, $13
No surprise: Grapefruit and lime on the nose. But it tastes less grassy than it smells, and that is a surprise. Mouth-watering tartness on finish. While I am not a huge fan of NZ SBs, this one is intriguing and drinkable—and fairly priced.
Geyser Peak Wines, Sauvignon Blanc, California, 2016, $12
Very popular menu find, incredibly balanced. I tend to favor California Sauvignon Blancs. To me, they are wonderfully more balanced than, say, New Zealand offerings. Less grassy, a bit more citrus. This works as stand-alone or with food, and the bottle notes of “delicate fruit” ring true. Good summer sipper, dry but not bone dry.
Reckless Love Wines, California, 2018, $11
This starts light at the beginning, almost like a Pinot Grigio, with peach and apricot notes. It finishes more dry and lemony like a Sauvignon Blanc. Great value.
Vina San Pedro, Chile, 2018, $10
A vegetal aroma is tempered a bit by lime, lemon and pineapple. Finish is grassy. There’s some acidity here to help it stand up to food. Three of our tasting pals gave this a thumb’s up, but the vegetal notes and finish turned me off.
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