With 15,000 acres under vine, sauvignon blanc is California’s fourth most planted white grape behind chardonnay, French colombard and pinot gris. This fact is surprising because it seems that everyone is producing a sauvignon blanc release these days.
Before California discovered sauvignon blanc, it had an established pedigree in Bordeaux France where it is often blended with semillon or used in the famous dessert wines from Sauternes and Barsac. North, in France’s Loire Valley, it is grown abundantly for the wines of Sancerre and Poilly-Fume’, putting forward, in the minds of many, the best expression of the grape.
In recent decades, highly rated and reasonably priced sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand has flooded US markets. One example is the Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2017 ($17) that was listed among Wine Spectator magazine’s top 100 wines of 2018.
With so many good sauvignon blanc releases across the state, it’s difficult and subjective to select a few. However, these eight wines have caught my attention and welcomed my palate. They originate from five different regions ranging from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma to Santa Barbara County
The Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley ($36) is, arguably, the highest rated in California and one of my go-to white wines. The combination of some Sauvignon Musque from Sancerre, barrel fermentation and regular lees-stirrings contribute to the perfumed, floral aromas and rich creamy mouthfeel that delivers melon, citrus and tropical fruit flavors.
My other favorite sauvignon blanc comes from Santa Barbara County where Kathy Joseph, owner/winemaker at Fiddlehead Cellars has long been experimenting with the varietal from different vineyards of the Happy Canyon appellation in the Santa Ynez Valley. After a comparative tasting years ago, I selected the Fiddlehead “Goosebury” Sauvignon Blanc ($38) as the best and my choice was confirmed when paired with some seared scallops at Celadon Restaurant in downtown Napa.
Whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, Kathy aptly described the complex flavor profile as “Zingy like a New Zealand wine, juxtaposed with the elegance of a Sancerre.”
Known mostly for their fabulous cabernet sauvignon releases, Spottswoode Estate Winery, in St, Helena, has been seriously producing well crafted sauvignon blanc since 1984. Through a unique barrel regimen, the Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc ($45) is fermented using a combination of French oak barrels, an amphora, two concrete and one ceramic egg-shaped cuves and, after regular lees-stirrings, it all results in intense aromas and rich, powerful flavors of lemon curd and tropical fruits.
During a tasting of Calistoga wines last year, I discovered The Grade Cellars “Sea Fog” Sauvignon Blanc ($35), a single vineyard release by noted winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, producer of a dozen 100-point wines. With this wine, acute floral and stone fruit aromas precede balanced flavors of citrus and tropical fruits with a noted soft minerality on the finish.
In a cave on that same Calistoga tasting tour, I found the 2016 Le Petit Coquerel Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($22) from their local estate Walnut Wash Vineyard. With stainless steel fermentation and “frequent” lees stirrings, the complexity of both the bouquet and flavor profile was off the charts and I, once again, enjoyed the lingering minerality.
The next two wines come from St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery and Peju Province Winery, both long standing estates in Rutherford that must be visited with a camera. With consistent ninety point ratings, the crisp St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc Dollar Hide Vineyard ($35) delivers intense citrus aromas and flavors along with a rich mouthfeel.
Having recently discovered the 2018 Peju Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($25), it is, according to winemaker Sara Fowler, made from grapes picked at different ripening levels to add complexity. It had a fresh mouthfeel but the floral and stone fruit aromas were extraordinary.
Aaron and Jesse Inman grew up living in a bus with their gold mining parents constantly on the move. Named after a gold mine
in their past, the brothers founded Lucky Rock Wine Company striving to create “Wine made with intention, not pretension.”
The 2018 Lucky Rock Sauvignon Blanc County Cuvée ($17), blended from vineyards in Lake and Napa counties and fermented in both stainless steel and oak, is crisp on the nose but more rounded on the palate through the finish. Those seeking good California quality under twenty dollars would be advised to look at Lucky Rock and its tattoo inspired label.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist.