Spring has finally sprung. Well, at least my palate thinks so, because these days, I’m craving crisp and refreshing citrus notes in my wine.
I often tell people that grapes, like apples, are a multi-dimensional fruit and come in a range of varietals. The sauvignon blanc grape is similar to the tart Granny Smith apple. The grape gets its name from the French word sauvage (wild) and blanc (white). The grape traces its origins to France in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. It is a green-skinned grape; and depending on the climate, can range from very grassy to tropical. Interestingly enough, in the 18th century, the vine paired with cabernet franc to parent the cabernet sauvignon grape.
The wine I grabbed from our cooler is 2012 Honig Napa Valley. My wife, Arlene, and I recently visited Honig Winery in Napa, so this naturally caught my eye. Michael Honig is an old friend from my days at A. Bommarito Wines, and we frequently visit when he is in St. Louis.
Honig is a fairly small winery in Rutherford, and has been family-owned since 1964. ‘Honig’ means honey bee in German; hence, the honey bee insignia on its bottles. Their vineyards have been sustainably farmed for many years, which means that while not certified organic, they follow similar practices with all-natural handling of the vineyards, but are allowed to spray pesticides—if necessary—to save the crop.
Let’s take a sip…
Color: Light straw and reflective in the light
Aroma: Slightly grassy, with grapefruit, honeysuckle, peach pit
Taste: All of the above, with notes of tropical nectarine and lemongrass with bright acidity
This wine is fermented in stainless tanks (90 percent aged in stainless and 10 percent in neutral oak, which gives the wine some mouth-feel texture without oak flavor). This wine has a nice balance of grapefruit and tropical fruits, making it the perfect spring/summer sipper.
Where do they grow sauvignon blanc?
France: We’ve all heard of Bordeaux. White Bordeaux sauvignon blanc is the main grape with sémillon and muscadelle as the other blending grapes to round out and soften the citrus grassy notes. A lot of good, inexpensive white Bordeaux comes from Entre-deux-Mers, which means ‘between two seas,’ the Garonne and Dordogne rivers (the left and right banks of Bordeaux). The Loire Valley further north also is home to sauvignon blancs, known to be racy, with citrus and gooseberry notes and high acidity. The appellations of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Touraine are the most well-known. There, the chalky soils add richness and perfumed notes to give the wines balance.
New Zealand: This grape helped put this wine-growing country on the map. Cloudy Bay Vineyards gained worldwide accolades for its sauvignon blanc. High citrus/grapefruit flavors are associated with New Zealand. This is an early-ripening grape, which, when picked late, will lead to muted flavors and a lack of acidity. These winemakers saw the benefits of picking early for the intensity of flavors and acidity; and a later picking for the more tropical fruit notes to shine through. This practice is now used by others around the world. New Zealand also led the way with Stelvin (screw caps) closures to keep their wine bright and fresh with no chance of ‘corked wine.’
North America: North and south, from Washington State to Southern California, make sauvignon blanc which has gained in popularity in the USA in the last 20 years. Prior to this, the varietal was not made well by most, producing aggressive, grassy and unbalanced wines. It was Robert Mondavi who barrel-aged the wines to round out those aggressive flavors, and also coined the name, fumé blanc, after Pouilly-Fumé in Loire. These days, we have all different styles, from citrus-driven to more tropical fruit-driven wines. This is all based on the soils and the climate of where we grow sauvignon blanc.
South America: Chile is making some good sauvignon blanc in a style that includes citrus, grassy notes and some peppers. It generally is less acidic than New Zealand and more similar to French sauvignon blanc. The cooler Valparaiso region is a notable region: In 1990, ampelographers (experts on vines and leaves) were called in to Chile to distinguish true sauvignon blanc plantings from other mistaken varietals.
Other Areas: South Africa’s Stellenbosch region makes some nice, racy sauvignon blanc. And we can’t forget Italy’s northeast region, Collio, which produces good sauvignons often blended with other white varietals for some great wines.
The wonderful world of sauvignon blanc is calling your palate, as well. Pair it with goat cheese, seafood, pesto sauces, etc… or, simply sip while relaxing on the patio with good friends. Enjoy!
Tasting Tip: Expose yourself to as many fruits as possible to help determine flavors in wine. Try a pomelo, a gooseberry or something else new to expand your repertoire. Then see yourself picking out those fruits when tasting.
Wine Recommendation: It’s a good idea to try many different styles from Loire, Bordeaux, New Zealand, California. I picked Honig because of the balance of citrus and tropical fruits.
Certified Sommelier Stanley Browne is the owner of Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves, Downtown at the MX and in Edwardsville.