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Weekend wine: How about Sauvignon Blanc?

This week Vin shares his picks for Sauvignon Blancs
Vin Greco, Wine All The Time

When someone asks, “What wine do you suggest?”, my first reaction is “what do you like?” For the longest time, my own list of favourite whites did not include Sauvignon Blanc. It is all a matter of personal tastes, but then, tastes can change. Mine have, and now there is room on my palate for this grape, too.

In the last few years, I have started to appreciate the range of styles in which it can be presented. Having been told that Apr. 24 is Sauvignon Blanc Day, it seemed like a good excuse to write about it.

Having made that decision, I then discovered that others claim that it is always the first Friday in May – this year the 5th – that is International Sauvignon Blanc Day. Oh, the Confusion!

As one reader questioned when I wrote about Malbec two weeks ago, is this not just an industry promotion? Sure it is, but there’s nothing wrong with that. If you want to learn a bit more about the varietal, read on.

With Chardonnay, there is the potential for making wines in a wide variety of styles, from lean to opulent, so much so that some drinkers have turned away from it and joined the ABC club- Anything But Chardonnay. With Sauvignon Blanc, there is certainly room for stylistic differences, but it can also be quite distinctive, so much so that with the more emphatic expressions, you will find people who are head over heels in love with it… and others who head for the hills when they encounter it.

Sauvignon Blanc is considered French in origin. It is particularly associated with Bordeaux and its maritime climate and is also very much at home more inland in the Loire Valley. Both climate and soils are important growing factors and may be folded in together under the term “terroir”.

While France may lay claim to being the official home of Sauvignon Blanc, it is New Zealand where the grape may have found the ideal location for its ultimate expression. The primary production area is in the Wairu Valley in the Marlborough region at the northern tip of the South Island.

The area, with its sunny days, cool nights and long growing season, is ideal for letting the grape ripen fully and evenly, bringing out its full, vibrant expression.

While it is not too difficult, especially in Vintages, to find Chardonnays in the $40 and $50 range and much, much higher (think Napa Valley and Burgundy), you rarely find a Sauvignon Blanc above $40. While even the best typically sell from $20 to $30, there are scads on the general list for $15 and less. 

In general, Sauvignon Blancs are meant to be drunk young. The flavour profile usually includes an aromatic nose that can be pungent with grapefruit and new-mown hay or grass, with perhaps some flinty smokiness. The intensity of flavour can vary, with the New Zealand wines often being the most expressive.

On the palate the flavours generally follow what was expressed on the bouquet, and can pick up other citrus such as lemon or lime, as well as mineral notes. The New Zealand and South African examples may also carry tropical fruit such as pineapple and passion fruit, while wines from the northern hemisphere, including France and even our Niagara region may carry herbal overtones. 

Expect a vibrant, lively acidity on the finish, particularly with the Marlborough wines, while the French and Ontario wines – and even many we find from South America - will often show more gently.

Available at the Wine Rack stores, the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Grand Reserve 2014, $19.95, is a particularly good example of a beautifully balanced Sauvignon Blanc. It reminds me of what we would expect from good examples from the Loire, with on-point herbal notes and lemony crispness.

On the general list, Chateau des Charmes 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, $14.95, took gold in Canada’s National Wine Awards. It has the grape’s signature “gooseberry nose”, yet is light-bodied and relatively light-flavoured. The finish carries good, but not overwhelming acidity, making it a decent wine to pair with salads.

From Chile’s Casablanca region, the organic Emiliana Adobe Reserva 2016, $13.10, has a slightly more tropical nose and more herbal intensity on the palate, with a touch perhaps of asparagus peeping through on the after-taste. (There is also an organic Adobe Merlot for the same $13.10 –it is medium bodied, with the emphasis more on the savoury side, though the plummy fruit is there – it  has good grip with some cocoa and pepper on the finish.)

Quite light with the nose displaying a wisp of the characteristic muskiness , The Beachhouse 2016, $10.10,  by Douglas Green from South Africa shows more of the Sauvignon Blanc character on the mouthfeel, which is very soft, but has that underlying core of acidity working for it. Popular both in price and style, this is at the “quiet end” of the Sauvignon Blanc Spectrum.

Heading to New Zealand, the regular list Villa Maria Private Bin 2015, $17.95, earned a 90 from the Wine Spectator for “tangy lime. melon and peach flavors… finishing juicy with plenty of focus and intensity.”

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is one of the more expensive examples in Vintages at $35.35, and is known for its intensity of flavour with passionfruit, lime and grapefruit in the fore, some lemongrass in the middle and mouth-watering acidity on the finish.

Limited Time Offers for the next period beginning Monday include Vintages’ Oyster Bay 2016, $2 off at $16.95, and on the regular list, Chile’s Errazuriz Max Reserva 2016, $3 off at $13.70. The former has a 90 from The Wine Enthusiast, which describes it as displaying “cut-grass, snow pea, nectarine and citrus…dry, silky and refreshing.”  The latter is herbaceous, vibrant and intense with mineral and grapefruit suggested.

With the meteorologists predicting a warmer than normal summer, some thirst-quenching, lip-smacking Sauvignon Blanc might be just the ticket.  Why not give it a try?

April 29 Vintages Release

White Wines

A few less expensive whites have found their way on to this release – unfortunately Timmins readers will have to order them in as they are not part of the consignment.

Strandveld First Sighting Sauvignon Blanc 2015, $12.95, from South Africa has a splash of Semillon to round it out and give it body.  A New Zealand writer refers to excellent entry and mid-palate, along with tropical fruit and, on the finish “fynbos… and buchu” – herbs specific to South Africa!

Bibi Graetz Casamatta Bianco, $14.95, is a Tuscan blend of Vermentino, Trebbiano, and Muscat. Vintages calls it fresh and stylish, a “fun and easy-drinking wine.

Eidosela Albariño 2015, $15.95 is a Spanish white carrying a Wine Enthusiast 90, tasting of green fruit with a pure and tangy finish to it. It was “#88 on their ‘Best 100 Best Buys‘ for 2016.

Red Wines

Leonardo Rosso 2014, $14.95 is a Tuscan blend with 85 per cent Sangiovese and15 per cent Merlot. Decanter World Wine Awards 2016 gives it a 95, calling it “fantastically perfumed with …black cherries and plum jam,” and a “beguiling sweetness on the juicy palate.”

Monte Del Frà, which provides us with excellent Valpolicellos and Ripassos now shares its Bardolino 2014, $14.95, a refreshing red with lifted acidity which begs to be chilled and enjoyed. Serve it with easy-going Italian food – sausages, pizza, and celebrate.

Vidal –Fleury Côtes Du Rhone 2013, $15.95 also has a heady 95 from Decanter, which called it “powerful and intense with black cherry and muscular berry fruit… and some neat, grippy slightly salted tannins.”

There are two Cabernet Sauvignons to compare, Seven Falls 2013, $19.95, from Washington’s Columbia Valley, and Sister’s Run Old Testament 2014, $17, from Coonawarra in South Australia.

The Seven Falls’ “well-balanced palate offers coffee and dark fruit flavours” says the Wine Enthusiast – 90.  With the Sister’s Run, the fruit emphasis is on black currant. While balanced, the style leans towards the drier end of the spectrum with spice and pepper on the finish.

Wildass Red 2013, $19.95, is a second-label offering from Niagara’s iconic Stratus Vineyards. It is a blend of several grapes, with medium body, lifted red berry fruit, and some savoury notes to accompany the light tannin.

There are many more great wines on the release, certainly in the $20 range and up.  Be sure to have a chat with your LCBO Consultants.