Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sauvignon Blanc - The Greatest Grape - Part Three

Reports on Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Australia, Chile, South Africa and Italy

This is part three of my report on Sauvignon Blanc, a grape that produces spectacular results around the world. Part one of my report dealt with Sauvignon Blancs from France, while part two was about Sauvignon Blanc from California and Washington. In today's post, I'll cover much of the rest of the world, primarily from the Southern Hemisphere - New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa - as well as a few beautiful examples from Italy. 

New Zealand and Australia - New Zealand took the wine world by storm in the 1980s and 1990s with releases of Sauvignon Blanc from several wine zones in the country. Most notable of these was Marlborough at the far northern reaches of the South Island; this zone receives more sunshine hours than almost anywhere in the world; combine that with a maritime climate and you have an ideal situation for this grape with a long, cool growing season resulting in intense aromatics as well as vibrant acidity.

But what really made everyone take notice was the flavor profile of these wines, with perfumes of gooseberry (many tasters had probably never used that term before when describing a Sauvignon Blanc from anywhere in the world) as well as lime and pear. In certain years, warmer temperatures meant more of a tropical fruit profile (passion fruit, mango); but in almost every year, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough was unmistakable. (Note that other regions in the country also produced rich, singular Sauvignon Blancs as well, especially the Nelson district, also on the South Island). 

The first famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was from Cloudy Bay; the winery is still one of the country's leaders with this variety, but there have been others - such as Grove Mill, Seresin and Villa Maria - that have consistent track records of excellence with this variety. A few years ago, Kevin Judd, the first winemaker at Cloudy Bay (as well as a world-class photographer and all-around nice guy) left to establish his own label; named Greywacke (pronounced grey-wackey) for a native bedrock found in local vineyards, this Sauvignon Blanc ups the ante and is one of the country's most remarkable Sauvignon Blancs.

As for Australia, while Semillon and Riesling are far more notable white varieties there are several zones where Sauvignon Blanc performs well; a few of the best are from Western Australia, especially from vineyards close to the sea in the Great Southern and Mount Barker territories, while Adelaide Hills in South Australia is a fine site for the variety as well. These Sauvignon Blancs are rarely as intense as the versions from New Zealand, but they are nicely balanced with some touches of gooseberry in the aromas along with notes of tomato plant.

A few reviews:

2009 Plantagenet "Omrah" Sauvignon Blanc (Western Australia) - Light yellow; aromas of lemon peel, Bosc pear and a hint of basil. Medium-bodied, this has very good acidity, good persistence and a tasty, satisfying finish. Good freshness - this tastes as though it seems younger; enjoy over the next 1-2 years. $16 (Imported by Old Bridge Cellars)

New Zealand
2012 Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) - Brilliant light yellow; aromas of gooseberry and tomato plant. Very good concentration. Tangy acidity, good persistence and varietal focus. Nicely balanced, relatively straightforward; enjoy over the next 2-3 years. $16 (Imported by Terlato Wine Group)

2013 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc "Private Bin" (Marlborough) - Straw/light yellow; varietal aromas of gooseberry, Anjou pear and lemon peel. Medium-bodied, this has very good acidity and a clean, round finish with impressive varietal character. This is such a pleasure to drink and it is an excellent introduction to the Marlborough style of Sauvignon Blanc; pair this with mussels. Enjoy over the next 1-2 years. $15 (Imported by Ste-Michelle Wine Estates)

2012 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc "Taylors Pass Vineyard"(Marlborough) - Packaged with a handsome black label, this is from a vineyard on the north bank of the Awatere River in Marlborough. Brilliant light yellow with golden tints; gorgeous aromas of gooseberry, passion fruit, gum and a hint of eucalyptus. Very good concentration; rich mid-palate with excellent ripeness. Notable persistence, striking acidity and excellent length in the finish. Lovely wine of great typicity and beautiful complexity. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. I have enjoyed the Sauvignon Blancs from Villa Maria for some time and believe this is one of the area's finest estates; yet somehow it has remained in the shadows of a few of the more famous Marlborough producers. I hope this will change soon! $25

2013 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) - As noted above, this is the label of former Cloudy Bay winemaker Kevin Judd; he established this brand in 2009. The 2013 is a marvelous wine, one that shows the world-class quality of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Brilliant straw; sublime aromas of honeydew melon, golden apples and chervil. Very good concentration, excellent persistence, lively acidity and spot-on varietal focus in the finish along with a touch of white pepper. So beautifully balanced and appealing, this is an outstanding wine of great typicity and elegance. I also want to note that this is not the most herbaceous, aggressive Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc available; I realize that some wine drinkers are somewhat turned off by that style. Thus, this year's version of Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc should appeal to a wider audience. Enjoy this over the next 3-5 years - perhaps longer. $20- a great value! Good on you, Kevin! (Imported by Old Bridge Cellars)

Chile - Most of us think of Chile as a warm, if not hot, wine territory, but there are some excellent zones with very cool climates, especially a few near the Pacific Ocean that runs the length of Chile's western border. The most famous of these are the Leyda and the San Antonio Valleys. There are only a few producers in San Antonio; one of these estates is Casa Marin, run by the diligent and passionate Maria Luz Marin. She produces two single vineyard Sauvignon Blancs; one of these sites, the Cipresses Vineyard, is situated only one mile from the Pacific Ocean, making this the vineyard with the closest vicinity to the Pacific in the Western Hemisphere. Needless to say, this is an assertive wine and in very cool years, the grapes struggle to ripen, resulting in an almost aggressive style of Sauvignon Blanc.

Another producer in San Antonio is Matetic, who produces a Sauvignon Blanc from San Antonio labeled as Corralillo that is more elegant and subdued than the wine from Casa Marin. 

Matetic also produces a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Casablanca Valley, located further inland than San Antonio. Lately a few producers have also planted Sauvignon Blanc in the Colchagua Costa zone, much further south in the country. Much of Colchagua Valley is quite hot, making this an ideal zone for big reds, but the Colchagua sub-zone, only about 5 miles from the Pacific, offers a suitable cool environment for racy Sauvignon Blancs.

2012 Matetic Sauvignon Blanc "Corralillo" (San Antonio) - Straw/light yellow; aromas of basil, gooseberry and grapefruit rind. Medium-full with very good concentration. Rich with good freshness and ripeness and a finish with decidedly tangy acidity and very good persistence. Clean - no oak- with excellent cool climate character and a slightly racy edge. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. $15 (Imported by Qunitessential)

2012 Matetic "EQ Coastal" Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley) - Brilliant straw; beautiful varietal aromas of freshly cut hay, chervil and hints of marjoram and white pepper. Medium-bodied with good to very good concentration. Lively, tangy acidity and very good persistence. Nicely balanced, well made wine with clear cut varietal focus. Enjoy over the next 1-2 years. $20

2012 Koyle Costa Sauvignon Blanc (Colchagua Costa) - Light yellow; aromas of Bosc pear, melon, spearmint and a hint of gooseberry. Medium-full with very good concentration. Bracing acidity, very good persistence and excellent varietal purity. This is a vibrant expression of Sauvignon Blanc with a slightly racy edge. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years - perhaps longer. $24 (Imported by Quintessential)

South Africa - While South Africa still struggles for placements in the American wine market, the producers there have certainly done their work as far as Sauvignon Blanc is concerned. The most famous district for this variety in South Africa is Stellenbosch, situated some 30 miles east of Cape Town; vineyards here are situated very close to the Atlantic Ocean. The wines tend to display vibrant acidity and flavors of gooseberry and herbal notes, much as in New Zealand, although tropical aromas are often a key feature as well.

2012 Simonsig Sauvignon Blanc "Sunbird" (South Africa) - Brilliant light yellow; aromas of lemon zest, gooseberry and white flowers. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Lively acidity, excellent persistence and impressive complexity. Rich with lovely ripeness and tightly constructed, as the flavors develop slowly. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. $18 (Imported by Quintessential)

Italy - And to end my posts about Sauvignon Blanc, let's discuss this wine in Italy. Here the variety is known simply as Sauvignon, not Sauvignon Blanc and while it's grown in various regions- including Tuscany, where some excellent versions are made near the sea in Bolgheri and other parts of the Maremma, the most famous versions are made in two northern regions, Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige. These two cool climate regions, both with mountain ranges (The Julian Alps for Friuli and the Dolomites for Trentino-Alto Adige) are ideal for a style of Sauvignon Blanc that offers herbal characteristics. These are often assertive, almost aggressive styles of Sauvignon Blanc that are clearly not for everyone. Yet, these are wines of marvelous complexity with bracing acidity and excellent structure. They do need strong white meats or seafood for pairing purposes, but they are clearly among the world's most distinctive Sauvignon Blancs.

2010 Livio Felluga Sauvignon (Colli Orientali del Friuli) - Straw; lovely aromas of grapefruit, freshly cut hay, Bosc pear and notes of sage and mint. Medium-full, this is extremely well balanced and flavorful with lively acidity and notable persistence. Quite elegant, this has beautiful varietal focus and is a more restrained style than many other examples from this area. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years.  $20 (Imported by Mionetto, USA)

2011 Cantina Terlano Sauvignon "Quartz" (Alto Adige) - Light yellow; intense aromas of Bosc pear, hyacinth, apple peel and basil. Medium-full with excellent concentration. Vibrant acidity, excellent persistence, great freshness and outstanding complexity. Elegant with a focus on fruit, backed by a subdued herbal character in the finish. Beautiful wine that will age well; this should drink well for the next 5-7 years, perhaps longer. A classic from Alto Adige! $55 (Imported by Banville and Jones)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Robert Mondavi Winery - Doing Just Fine, Thank You

When it comes to California wines, the media loves to talk about the new kids on the block. There are plenty of stories about some small producer who's got a few acres on a Napa Valley hillside or in the Sonoma Coast just a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. The fact that many of these estates don't produce much wine is also another reason they get coverage - the wines are often difficult to find. 

That translates to larger, more established California wineries often getting the short end of the stick as far as media coverage. These producers aren't hip enough for some people or perhaps the wines are TOO easily available, as though that's a problem in the large picture. But whatever the reason, the successful California wineries with an excellent track record just don't receive the same critical analysis the newbies do.

All of this brings me to the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. This is one of California's most renowned and historic wine estates, as Robert Mondavi opened his own winery in 1966 in Oakville; his aim, to produce some of the best wines in the world. He used France as a guideline, admiring the balance of their wines, but at the same time, Mondavi knew that his wines would reflect their origins and that his products would have their own identity.

Well, the rest is history as they say; everyone knows how many glorious wines were crafted at Mondavi, be it Cabernet Sauvignon, Fumé Blanc, Pinot Noir, etc. This was a focal point for California wines throughout the late 1960s as well as the 1970s, '80s and '90s. What was even greater in my opinion was that Mr. Mondavi promoted not only his own wines, but those of Napa Valley in general. He knew that by endorsing his neighbors' wines, he would do a lot of good for himself as well as other producers in California as well as the New World. 

Mr. Mondavi passed away in 2008 at the age of 94, but a few years before that, his beloved winery was sold to Constellation Brands, a large, public-traded company that owns other wine estates as well as some spirits brands. That move turned a good number in the wine business away from Robert Mondavi wines and for better or worse, some of those same people - as well as many in their 20s and 30s who today are starting to head up wine programs around the country - tend to dismiss the Robert Mondavi brand as less than first-rate.

Well, I've never been one to automatically accept popular opinion - I like to make up my own mind. So with that in mind, I recently tasted five current releases from Robert Mondavi. One, the 2011 Reserve Fumé Blanc from the renowned To-Kalon Vineyard at the winery, was a wine I labeled as "extraordinary." (see post here) I'm passionate about wines, but I can count on one hand the number of wines I've tasted which I thought were of this caliber. That got me to thinking that there are some pretty special wines being made these days at Robert Mondavi.

Here are some brief notes on four other recent releases from Robert Mondavi.

2012 Pinot Noir (Carneros) - Deep garnet; aromas of red cherry, wild strawberry, brown sugar and cardamom. Very good concentration; this is nicely styled with medium-weight tannins and good acidity. Elegant finish; good persistence; enjoy over the next 2-3 years. This is fairly priced at $26 and is a Pinot Noir all about varietal character and elegance. This was made not for points, but for food.

2011 Chardonnay Reserve (Carneros) - Here is a rich, slightly showy Chardonnay in a style that is meant for very rich seafood. Aromas of toasted almond, mango, Anjou pear and a hint of flint. Medium-full with a rich, lush mid-palate. Impressive persistence, good acidity and excellent varietal character. The oak is noticeable, but not overwhelming. Lobster or halibut would be an excellent pairing for this wine. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years - perhaps longer. ($40).

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) - Bright ruby red; aromas of black currant, black cherry and a hint of licorice. Medium-full with very good concentration. Elegantly styled finish with round, medium-weight tannins, good acidity and nicely integrated wood notes. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has become a classic over the past four decades and this is a textbook bottling meant for consumption over the next 5-7 years. The $28 price tag reflects that and while I like this wine very much, I love it for its price - very good value!

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville District - Deep ruby red/light purple; aromas of black plum, anise, iodine and purple iris. Very good concentration, nicely expressed mid-palate, medium-weight tannins and notable new oak notes. Good persistence and acidity, this is a bit austere and lean now, but time will resolve that. Give this some time - best in 7-10 years. A very fair price at $40.

Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens, who started with the winery in 1978 and has been in charge of winemaking since 1997, is continuing the vision of Robert Mondavi today. In other words, these are wines that reflect the land; combine that with some exceptional vineyards in Napa Valley and you have a roster of excellent wines. And as you may have noticed in my tasting notes, these are not the most powerful, deeply concentrated wines made in Napa Valley; if you want those wines - often the ones that receive scores in the mid to high-90s, look elsewhere. But these are beautifully made wines made for enjoyment with food tonight and over the next few years.

Maybe some of the new kinds on the block could learn a few things by tasting these wines!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Highlights from Tre Bicchieri

Gianluca Grasso, Az. Agr. Elio Grasso (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

The Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri  tasting was held in Chicago yesterday - stops in New York City and San Francisco are also part of this current tour - and wine lovers in the trade and media were treated to an embarrassment of riches, as far as Italian wines go. This publication, generally regarded to as the Bible of Italian wines, each year tastes 20,000 wines for their guide and rates wines on a scale of one to three glasses, with the highest being three - tre bicchieri - wines that are considered by the tasting panel as the finest in the country. As only 415 wines were given this rating for the 2014 guide - barely more than two percent of the wines tasted - these truly are special wines.

What I love about this guide is that the highest ratings for Italian wines are not relegated to the most famous full-bodied reds such as Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino or Amarone; rather there are dozens of Italian wines that are honored as worthy of a Tre Bicchieri rating, be they sparkling such as Prosecco or Franciacorta, elegant whites from Alto Adige, Friuli, Campania and several other regions or gorgeous reds such as Aglianico del Vulture, Taurasi and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo that often do not get the attention they deserve.

So at this tasting yesterday, one could pretty much receive a thorough education in Italian wines; yes, tasting the finest Italian wines of the year is quite special, but when you realize that you'll taste a wide range of wine types, well, that makes a day like this even more enjoyable.

So without further ado, on to a few highlights from the 2014 Tre Bicchieri tasting:

Sparkling - Everyone knows Prosecco, the famous sparkling wine from the Veneto region, but this is a product generally thought of as an everyday wine, one without distinctive characteristics. One taste of the 2012 Ruggeri "Giustino B"Extra Dry would prove how special this wine can be; medium-full with an explosive mid-palate and a lengthy, elegant finish, this is a classy sparkling wine! 

As for Franciacorta, arguably Italy's finest sparkling wine category, there were several first-rate offerings featured, including the beautifully-structured Lo Sparviere 2007 Extra Brut and the Ferghettina Pas Dosé "33"Riserva 2006, a blend of three of their finest wines (100% Chardonnay) that is perfectly balanced with lovely complexity. Then there were two of Italy's most sublime sparkling wines, the 2005 Ca' del Bosco "Annamaria Clementi" and the 2006 Bellavista "Vittorio Moretti"; both are quite powerful, with amazing persistence are absolutely delicious and can rightfully take their place among the world's finest sparkling wines.

Marica Bonomo, Monte del Fra (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Whites - Italian white wines just don't get the attention they deserve from the major wine publications; I've been commenting on this for years. So how nice of Gambero Rosso to honor the country's finest whites, whatever the type and style. At Monte del Fra, proprietor Marica Bonomo produced a lovely 2011 Custoza "Ca' del Magro" from her estate vineyards in the Veneto; a blend of several grapes (primarily Garganega), this is a charming dry white with beautiful acidity and subtle charms. The 2012 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo "Cutizzi" from a single vineyard in Santa Paolina in Campania, is a rich white with beautiful citrus and floral aromatics and lively acidity, a trait of this vintage's white from this region. Drinkable now with rich seafood, this will be even better with another 3-5 years of aging.

The white that most surprised me was the 2011 Valle Reale Trebbiano d'Abruzzo "Vigne de Capstrano." I say that as most examples of Trebbiano d'Abruzzo are quite simple, even one-dimensional; how nice to experience a Trebbiano that breaks the mold! Fermented with wild yeasts and unfiltered, this has a cloudy appearance; quite full on the palate, this has spicy, nutty perfumes and a powerful finish; here is a Trebbiano of great complexity, one that has aging potential. This estate has been a leader in this region and this wine is, in my opinion, one of Italy's most distinctive whites!

Gerardo Giuratrabocchetti, Cantine del Notaio (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Reds - Of course, there were the usual suspects presented in this tasting, including Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino. Of the former, the best examples were the Giacomo Fenocchio "Bussia" and the Elio Grasso "Gavarini Chiniera", both from the 2009 vintage. That was a rather difficult year for Barolo, but these wines displayed the elegance one has come to expect from the finest examples of this iconic wine. Both are made in a traditional style and are ideally balanced with good acidity; these are examples of Barolo that are meant for food, whether in a few years or 10-12 years down the road.

As for Brunello di Montalcino, the Mastrojanni "Vigna Schiena d'Asino"is a stunning wine. Traditionally made with great Sangiovese purity, this is a wine of elegance, breeding and first-rate complexity. Offering excellent depth of fruit, subtle wood notes and very good acidity, this is a textbook Brunello meant for 12-15 years of aging.

Arguably the finest red wine at this event - and that's saying something - was the 2010 Cantine del Notaio Aglianico del Vulture "La Firma." Aglianico is the great red variety of Southern Italy, but one usually reads about this grape when referring to Taurasi of Campania. But in Basilicata, there are several distinguished examples from the Aglianico del Vulture zone; wines that are rugged, yet elegant with firm, but refined tannins. I included this wine in my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello; I can now reaffirm that the Cantine del Notaio "La Firma" is truly one of Italy's most distinguished red wines after tasting this 2010 version; full-bodied with a beautifully developed mid-palate and tremendous persistence, along with balancing acidity, this is a marvelous effort, a great bottle of wine on so many levels.

So it's a year off, but I can't wait until the 2015 Tre Bicchieri tasting!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tre Bicchieri Returns

The Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting is back in the United States and if you're a lover of Italian wines - you need to be there. I'll be there on Tuesday, February 11 in Chicago; there is also a tasting in San Francisco on Thursday, February 13.

Gambero Rosso is the bible of Italian wines, rating wines of every type from all twenty regions of Italy. Their highest rating is Tre Biccchieri (three glasses), a designation that is awarded to the very best Italian wines of the year. Last year, a total of 20,000 wines were tasted with only 399 being given the highest award, so this is a very distinguished and difficult rating to achieve.

What's nice about these ratings are that they are not reserved merely for the most famous Italian red wines such as Amarone, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino, but also for white wines such as Soave, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi and Friulano as well as sparkling wines such as Prosecco and Franciacorta as well as some lovely, underappeciated reds such as Dogliani, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Cannonau de Sardegna (a personal favorite!).

Some of the most famous producers from Italy will be represented, including Vietti, Donnafugata, Nino Negri, Masi and Ferrari, to name only a few. But make sure you also taste the wines from underrated producers such as Valle Reale (Abruzzo), Monte del Fra (Veneto) and Cantine Lunae Bosoni (Liguria, an exceptional Vermentino) as well - you'll miss out on some great wines if you don't!

The details:

Chicago, Fabruary 11 - Union Station, 500 W. Jackson / 2-3 Media - 3-6 Trade

San Francisco, February 13 - Fort Mason Center/ 2-3 Media - 3-6 Trade

Reservations for the Chicago tasting must be made by February 7 and for San Francisco by February 10. Here is the link:

See you at the Chicago tasting on February 11!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sauvignon Blanc- The Greatest Grape - Part Two - California and Washington

The 2011 Robert Mondavi Reserve Fumé Blanc, sourced from the winery's To-Kalon Vineyard, is world class.

This is part two of my look at Sauvignon Blanc from around the world. Part one (click here) focused on France, especially the wines of the Loire Valley, such as Touraine, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. This second part deals with Sauvignon Blanc from California and Washington and part three will deal with Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Chile and South Africa in an upcoming post.

I call Sauvignon Blanc the "greatest grape." That's open to debate of course, but it's certainly my favorite for several reasons. First, it's a success around the world - there are exemplary examples from France, California, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries - and how many other varieties perform so well in so many different climates? Not only that, but there are so many different styles, ranging from tangy with tropical fruit flavors to edgier, more mineral driven versions. Naturally with so many various styles, there are all sorts of food pairings that work with Sauvignon Blanc; do you want to pair a white with shellfish, with halibut, with braised chicken - well, there's a Sauvignon Blanc that will work perfectly with these dishes. Any wonder why I call it the greatest grape?

Let's move on to a few examples of Sauvignon Blanc from California and Washington. Compared to the classic styles of this variety from the Loire Valley, many Sauvignon Blancs from America's West Coast tend to offer slightly less acidity with less raciness in the finish. There are some herbal notes, such as freshly cut hay, in the aromas, but the emphasis is often focused on fruit presented in a clean style. The best examples tend to be well balanced, often with beautiful aromas of spearmint as well as yellow flowers; these are very pretty wines that are a pleasure to drink or pair with lighter foods. 

From Washington State, especially in the Columbia Valley, the Sauvignon Blancs often show a little more herbal character, especially in the finish. Acidity is sometimes a bit higher than in California, but generally not as lively as those from France. Based on what I tasted, Sauvignon Blanc performs well in Washington and I hope that more producers will work with the grape, which means more research, which should lead to better and better wines.

Sauvignon Blanc is healthy in California, but clearly Chardonnay is still in greater demand and of course, the most celebrated wines still tend to be Cabernet Sauvignon. Thus for me, most examples of Sauvignon Blanc from California are fine introductions to the variety. Thankfully, there are a few wineries that have continued their long track record (more than three decades) of specializing in this variety, with the two most notable being Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley and Dry Creek Vineyard from Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley. It is also nice to see a few small estates in Napa, such as Cornerstone, craft a serious Sauvignon Blanc.

On to the tasting notes:

2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle "Horse Heaven Vineyard" (Columbia Valley) - From the Columbia Valley in Washington State, here is one of the most attractive stylings of Sauvignon Blanc from America for less than $20. This vineyard, adjacent to the Columbia River near Paterson in south central Washington; planted in the 1970s to Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (there is 5% Semillon included in this wine), this is a moderately warm site. Part of the wine (60%) was stainless steel fermented with the rest fermented in older French oak; to me, this was a wise decision by winemaker Bob Bertheau, as the wine offers beautiful texture with the wood notes merely adding complexity and not dominating. The aromas are quite expressive, with notes of chervil, dried hay and dried pear. Medium-bodied with lovely finesse and ideal balance, this has delicate herbal notes in the finish. Lovely food wine that I would pair with mussels or clams (there is a recipe on the winery website for braised Moroccan chicken that sounds like a fabulous match!). Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years. The suggested retail price is $15, which in my opinion makes this an excellent value. I love this wine!

2012 Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc (California) - Joel Gott's wines are always a pleasure to drink, as they are well-balanced and offer very good varietal character. Aromas of chervil, hay and lemon peel, this is nicely balanced with good acidity and a round finish with a light herbal note. This is a fine introduction to Sauvignon Blanc and it is is non-oaked, this makes for an ideal sipping wine or one that works well with light seafood, chicken or vegetable risotto. Enjoy over the next 1-2 years. ($12)

2012 Trinchero Sauvignon Blanc "Mary's Vineyard" (Calistoga AVA, Napa Valley) - This example from the warm Calistoga district in northern Napa Valley has a brilliant yellow color with golden tints. The aromas are delicate and quite lovely with notes of fig, Bosc pear and geranium; medium-bodied, this has lovely varietal focus along with very good acidity and balance. Nice purity and subtle qualities to this wine; enjoy this over the next 1-2 years, perhaps longer. Ideal with light shrimp or scallop presentations. ($24)

2011 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley) - This renowned producer is of course, known for their marvelous examples of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa's Stags Leap District, but they also produce a very fine Sauvignon Blanc. This is a cuvée of Sauvignon Musque (59%), a highly aromatic clonal variant of Sauvignon Blanc and 41% Sauvignon Blanc; three-quarters of the blend was fermented in older French oak barrels with the remainder in stainless steel. Light yellow with aromas of snap pea, dried pear and hay, this is medium-full and offers good acidity and varietal focus. A bit of a subdued style, this was not made with the thought of receiving points in a magazine, but rather with food in mind; shrimp or scallops would be ideal. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years. ($26)

2012 Cornerstone Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley) Here is a "serious" Sauvignon Blanc, made in a style apart from the delicate, pretty approach taken by numerous California producers. Sourced from a single vineyard in St. Helena, this offers aromas of Bosc pear, vanilla and dried flowers. There are oak notes noticeable here, but they are nicely integrated and do not overwhelm. Medium-full to full-bodied, this has a rich mid-palate and a flavorful finish; this has plenty of stuffing and nice texture. This is 14% alcohol, but proprietor Craig Camp tells me that this is a result of the local terroir of this site to ensure proper ripeness. This is a stylistic wine of excellent quality. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years; this needs very rich seafood such as halibut or swordfish (Camp recommends crab or lobster). ($30)

Now we come to two very special producers of Sauvignon Blanc in California, estates that have made this variety a focus of their portfolio. I am speaking of Dry Creek Vineyards in Sonoma County and Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. Below are notes on some of their most famous examples of Sauvignon Blanc - or do you call it Fumé Blanc?

2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Fumé Blanc (Sonoma County) - Dave Stare, founder of Dry Creek vineyard, was the first vintner to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Dry Creek Valley in the early 1970s; this wine has been produced since 1972. While this wine used to be somewhat aggressive in its herbal character, today's versions are slightly toned down, yet still offer excellent varietal character with delicate herbal notes. The 2012 has aromas of freshly cut hay, chervil and a touch of hay, is medium-bodied and has very good persistence and acidity. Think of this as a kinder, gentler style of Sauvignon Blanc, one that is well made and meant for lighter shrimp and scallop presentations; this is also very appealing on its own. Drink over the next 1-2 years. ($14, hard to argue with the price).

2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Dry Creek Valley) - Blended with 10% Sauvignon Musque, this is a sleek, elegantly styled Sauvignon Blanc with beautiful varietal character. Offering aromas of grapefruit, fresh hay and yellow flowers, this is ideally balanced and has a delicate finish with a light earthiness. This is nicely made in a white Bordeaux style; enjoy over the next 2-3 years with most seafood. ($16, again, hard to fault this price.)

2011 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc "DCV3 Vineyard" (Dry Creek Valley) - Like the two other Dry Creek Vineyard wines above, this was aged and fermented solely in stainless steel. But unlike those wines, this is a more assertive wine, richer on the palate with more obvious herbal overtones; this is definitely made in a Loire Valley style. Intriguing aromas of bell pepper, jalapeño, freshly cut grass and chervil. Medium-full, this has a lengthy, complex finish with strong notes of green pepper. Excellent persistence and good acidity. This would overwhelm delicate seafood, so pair this with cuisines that can stand up to the herbal notes in this wine; I think this would be ideal with some Mexican (think cilantro) or Indian dishes. Enjoy over the next 2-3 years - perhaps longer. ($25 and worth every penny.)

When Robert Mondavi established his winery in Oakville, Napa Valley in 1966, he was determined to make Sauvignon Blanc one of his top priorities. He borrowed the term Fumé (meaning "smoky") from the famous Sauvignon Blanc-based wine, Pouilly Fumé; this would be his inspiration, but his version would be a product that spoke of Napa Valley. Today winemaker Genevieve Janssens continues Mr. Mondavi's vision in the Fumé Blancs she crafts. Here are notes on two of these wines.

2012 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc (Napa Valley) - A blend of 87% Sauvignon Blanc and 13% Semillon; 64% of the juice was barrel fermented; the wine was matured for six months in 60-gallon French oak barrels. Bright, brilliant yellow with beautiful varietal aromas of Bosc pear, a hint of basil and freshly cut grass. Medium-full with very good concentration, very good acidity and notable persistence. Nicely balanced with excellent varietal purity, this is a delicious, refreshing wine! Just perfect with shrimp or clams; enjoy over the next 2-3 years. ($20)

2012 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve "To-Kalon Vineyard" (Napa Valley) - To-Kalon, translated from the Ancient Greek as "the highest beauty" (a fitting name, especially if you've ever seen this site!), is situated directly behind the Robert Mondavi winery; it is one of the most beauitful and treasured vineyards in all of Napa Valley. Over half of the grapes in this wine are from a block that was planted in 1960, which many believe is the oldest planting of Sauvignon Blanc in Napa Valley. Given this sort of breeding, one would expect a wine of marvelous character and this wine delivers on every level.

A blend of 98% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Semillon; 100% fermented in French oak barrels (29% of them new), matured for ten months in barrels. Brilliant light yellow; aromas of white flowers, green tea, marjoram and a hint of vanilla - very distinctive! Full-bodied with excellent concentration, the mid-palate is quite rich and elegantly presented. Excellent persistence, very good acidity, nicely integrated wood notes and outstanding complexity. A combination of superb fruit and impeccable winemaking by Janssens, who clearly has made a wine that pays tribute to its Loire Valley roots, but is, first and foremost, a Napa Valley classic. The word great is overused these days, as it is tossed around like confetti; instead, I will rate this wine with the most approrpriate term that comes to mind - this is an extraordinary wine! Easily one of the finest Sauvignon Blancs I have ever tasted from Calfornia (or anywhere), this is world-class! Enjoy over the next 5-7 years; this should be especially fine paired with roast chicken, ahi tuna or pork medallions. ($40)