Summertime in a Glass
Resident Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis
In this Sauvignon Blanc Regional Tasting Profile, Resident Master Sommelier, Catherine Fallis aka grape goddess of Planet Grape, takes a look at the iconic Napa Valley – a terrific place for Sauv Blanc…
California’s premier wine growing district, the Napa Valley, enjoys its hard-earned reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon. Why not? Most industry folks, even those in Bordeaux, France – whose wines are often based on Cabernet Sauvignon – will agree there is no better place on earth to fully ripen Cabernet than this bucolic, 30-mile long valley north of San Francisco. Cabernet loves the heat and Napa delivers. Where Cabernet Sauvignon and its white counterpart Sauvignon Blanc thrive, more delicate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wilt. They prefer a cooler location, closer to the coast or higher up in the mountains.
Within Napa Valley the spectrum of microclimates runs from cool to hot, and Sauvignon Blanc ripens beautifully in all of them, so let’s look to stylistic rather than regional influences. Winemakers often have a specific style in mind, or are tasked with it, to cater to a particular audience, or even to the tastes of a spouse.
Stylistically, Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs fall into three general categories: Traditional, New Wave, and Modern. Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc initially looked to barrel-aged Chardonnay as a role model. Early Napa offerings were rich, round, and fruity with an emphasis on melon and stone fruit (i.e. apricot or peach), and were lavishly oaky. These days, the style has evolved to mirror the best white Bordeaux, wines such as Chateau Haut Brion Blanc. They are rich, classy, understated, beautifully balanced, and expensive. Araujo, Rudd, Arietta and Quintessa are good examples.
The wildly successful New Zealand model – a vibrant interplay of ripe tropical and tart, grassy green notes, like that produced at St. Supéry, is the new wave. Folks love the vivacious flavors, the bright, ripe, refreshing rainbow in a glass. While this loud style works for some, it may not for everyone.
A modern style has evolved over the past few years – helped in part by a series of challenging vintages – that is lighter in alcohol and aged either in tank or concrete egg. This lively, clean, citrusy style plays down the zesty green notes and goes for a more elegant expression of the grape.
Below you will find the five local Sauvignon Blancs evaluated for this report in their respective categories.
The 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley is very rich, ripe, round, and silky, with lemon, honeydew, pineapple, honey, lanolin, vanilla and butter cream. Soft green pea, hay, and peppermint add nuance and complexity. The wine is very well balanced and has a long finish.
The 2013 Phifer-Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley is full, rich, and intense, with notes of ripe pear, mashed banana, fruit cocktail, pineapple juice, and apple skin along with soft green notes of spring onion, asparagus and artichoke, zucchini, pine needle, pine resin, and a very slight jalapeno note. A lovely violet note appears on the long, tart finish.
The 2013 St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, from their Dollarhide Estate Vineyard, is vibrant, layered, pithy and juicy with notes of lemon, kefir lime, green apple, apricot, peach, pineapple, hay, lemongrass, talc, rose powder, nilla wafer, and Bay Rhum cologne. It is like a trip to the tropics in a glass.
The 2013 J. Lohr Carol’s Vineyard St. Helena Napa Valley is rich and round but lively, not heavy. It has notes of yellow pear, golden delicious apple, honeydew melon, mango, guava, hay, tarragon, white pepper, and a soft hint of nutmeg, most likely from a partial contact with Acacia barrels. It is tart, pithy, and dry on the finish.
The 2013 Two Old Dogs Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, from Herb Lamb Farms, is fresh and zesty but also mellow. It is a lighter style and one that pulls focus away from the herbaceous notes found so often these days. Notes of lemon curd, lemon tart, lime zest, quince paste, yellow plum, peach puree, peach skin, mango, bitter almond, and pine needle meld together for a very elegant expression.