Tasting wine: Good sauvignon blanc does exist

Sauvignon blanc is becoming the next chardonnay, and I don’t mean this in a good way. There used to be a number of really good sauvignon blancs made all over the world, but it seems to me like they’ve become more uniform. Here’s my rant.

Maybe I’m not trying enough, but the other day I was at a New Zealand wine tasting, and while a few were very quite delicious, most had the same jalapeño pepper, gooseberry thing going on without anything else to distinguish them. New Zealand is not alone. Actually, many of the Sancerres I’ve had recently have tasted more like they were from Hawkes Bay or Marlborough than from the Loire Valley.

Lest you think California is getting overlooked here, it has been a long time — since the DeSante Reserve — that I’ve put a California sauvignon blanc on the list at my restaurant. Why? Because California is doing a much better job with roussanne, and obscure grapes such as verdelho and sylvaner are making more distinct wines.

What gives? I don’t know, really, I don’t. If it is a belief among certain producers that people just want fruity wines, I think it will backfire. At any rate, there are still some superb sauvignon blancs to be found. I am here to reward them with a mention.

Vergelegen Wine Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 (Southwest, South Africa)

There is quite a bit of sauvignon blanc in South Africa, and I’ve had others that have been memorable from Boschendal. Wine has been made on this estate since the 18th century. The grapes for the sauvignon blanc are sourced from Vergelegen’s own vineyards in Stellenbosch and purchased fruit from the coast. Full-bodied with grapefruit, passion fruit, tangerine, melon and a slight Graves-like minerality, this wine has broad fruit with depth.

Suggested retail: $24

Paul Achs Sauvignon Blanc, 2006 (Burgenland, Austria)

Paul Achs was one of the founding members of the Pannobile, a group of winemakers in Burgenland that is dedicated to creating world-class wines from the town of Gol. Pannobile wines are red, but Achs sauvignon blanc has caught my attention since I first tasted the ‘04 vintage. Minerally with racy acidity and bright peach and grapefruit flavors, it is thirst-quenching, food-friendly and delightful.

Suggested retail: $25

Lucien Crochet Sancerre, 2004 (Loire Valley, France)

Finally, a Sancerre that tastes like Sancerre. I don’t think Sancerre has to smell like kitty pee, as many did when I first started getting into wine, but the supreme minerality of Sancerre’s soil is what makes Sancerre what it is. The Crochet family first started making wine in 1934; today the winery is run by Lucien and his son, Gilles. Medium-bodied with floral, chalky overtones, grapefruit, melon and lime, this is textbook Sancerre.

Suggested retail: $22

Pamela S. Busch is the proprietor and wine director of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.

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