Two or three decades ago, Sauvignon Blanc was a minor but respectable grape variety in California. Most vintners grew it, although they didn’t stake their reputation on it. Then two things happened:
For starters, the price of Cabernet from designated Napa and Sonoma vineyards skyrocketed until it reached the stratosphere. Remembering that the best land for Sauvignon Blanc is also the best land for Cabernet Sauvignon, would you rather sell Sauvignon Blanc or get four to five times the price for Cabernet?
Second, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc exploded on the scene with aromatics that were tropical, dazzling and overblown. This was Sauvignon Blanc on steroids. It wasn’t sweet, for the most part, but it attracted a great many beginning wine drinkers in search of something “fun.” In its wake, the California version disappeared beyond the far side of the moon.
The trend has recently been reversing, and California is once again interesting territory for Sauvignon Blanc. Perhaps some of those overstimulated New Zealand drinkers have graduated to something more serious. If so, there is a bevy of conscientious winemakers in the Golden State who are crafting noteworthy Sauvignon Blanc from quality vineyard sites. We recently reviewed the offerings from David Ramey’s Sidebar Cellars, and here are three more:
Gamble Family Vineyards: The Gamble family arrived in Napa in 1916, and bought their land before the gold rush. Their 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($25) exudes whiffs of grapefruit and melon on the nose, along with evidence of good acidity. That acidity sparkles on the palate, along with a profusion of citrus flavors and a firm mineral backbone. The finish is lush and charming. This is a wine for a summer’s day, a perfect match for sunshine and shellfish.
Ehlers Estate: From a winery founded in 1886, their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($35) is pleasantly grassy on the nose, displaying aromas of citrus and minerals. In the mouth, it displays surprising depth and character for a wine vinified without oak: the acidity is firm, the flavors of grapefruit and melon are mouthwatering, and a hint of white pepper pops up in the mid palate and continues onto the finish. While delightful to drink on its own, this wine cries out for oysters.
Star Lane: Located in the Happy Canyon region of Santa Barbara, Star Lane is produced by the same ownership and winemaking team as Dierberg Vineyards. Their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($22) exhibits spice and melon on the nose mingled with hints of minerals. The wine is flashy and extremely well-balanced on the palate, with the fruit and acidity intertwining seamlessly. A touch of neutral oak provides a texture generous enough for poultry and white meats as well as seafood.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.