"Yeah I am the knuckle, bow down and buckle…"

by Katie Pizzuto on January 22, 2009

in Reviews,Sauvignon Blanc

fightingsbsSauvignon blanc is one of those wines that expresses itself completely differently depending on where it’s made. To say you do or don’t like SB is no more useful than saying you do or don’t like ale—too many variables are involved. Some people can’t stand the grassy New Zealand SBs with that faint (or not-so-faint) hint of cat pee. Others absolutely adore them but turn their noses up at the less-racy, richer SBs from Bordeaux or the spicy, aromatic ones from Sancerre.  What no one talks too much about, though, is California sauvignon blanc. It’s there, it’s fine, it’s…mostly boring. We can thank Robert Mondavi for bringing attention to it, sure. But the list is long of people we can thank for destroying a grape that doesn’t have any business being grown in warmer climates. Our new Angel vs. Demon throwdown, folks, is California sauvignon blanc.

Generally speaking, SB thrives in cooler climates. In places like Sancerre (in the Loire valley) the coolness produces wines with high acidity and moderate alcohol. It also seldom sees any time in oak except, of course, in California where a lot of it at this point, is indistinguishable from chardonnay. So when I was in the mood for SB I never, repeat NEVER, thought to buy from Napa/Sonoma. Despite the fact that many (ok, let’s be honest, most) wineries in CA are still making crappy, uninspired, overripe sauv. blanc, one in particular turned my head about two years ago and reawakened the faith I once had in the west coast’s ability to make good SB. When I originally reviewed the wine, my writing was so blatantly passionate that it actually caused one reader to stop what she was doing, hunt down the wine online and buy a couple of bottles— something no wine review had ever moved her to do.  Here’s some of what I wrote about Fortress Vineyards‘ SB (from the cool-climate Red Hills AVA) whose 2007 is our “Angel” today:

“The mere process of pouring it into a glass stirred up all sorts of floral notes, tropical fruit and citrus. Just sticking my nose in the glass brought a smile to my face, and I lingered there in absolutely no rush to actually taste. I COULD SMELL THIS WINE ALL DAY LONG!…A string of descriptions came tripping off my tongue as I tasted: lime, tangerine, apricot, pineapple…even guava on the finish. It had a slight minerality, but it was round and chewy, rich, deep, lingering…told you it was love! And when I chilled it down just a bit, the crispness and acidity showed its face some more to completely round this puppy out. You’d never believe this was 100% SB because it SO resembles a fine Graves, but indeedy-doo it is…no Semillon in the mix at all, and it certainly doesn’t need it.”

I can’t stress how important this wine is to Cali SB. They planted in a cool pocket, used the aromatic Musque clone of the grape, and made a fantastic wine that is a damned BARGAIN at about $15. On the other side of the coin is our “Demon” whose roll quite frankly could have been played by any number of wines. So for shits and giggles I closed my eyes, had my kid spin me in circles a couple of times in the wine shop, and then I randomly pointed to the bottle I was going to buy and pit against the Fortress. THIS is how much I love you people. Not only because I’d gladly make a fool of myself in a store, but also because I actually wasted fourteen perfectly good bones for wine I wouldn’t cook with, much less drink: Sterling Vineyards SB. Tasting notes were not exactly copious…very light in color (did I pour water or wine?), SUPER tight nose…like a virgin who is simply NOT willing to give you any play at all. Boring, flat, insipid. No, not the virgin, the wine. This battle, no surprise to me, was a complete massacre.

Fortress Vineyards 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) Find It (here)
Sterling Vineyards 2007 Sauvignon Blanc ( $14) Forget It

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Coupe 60 January 29, 2009

Interesting topic Katie…I hardly drink any SBs. Just not what I look for

You couldn’t pay me to drink a NZ Sauvignon Blanc…Not only do I not find enjoyment in it, I actually find the opposite (unenjoyment maybe something even stronger)…

I do like the occasional white Bordeaux, and some sancere’s… and well Cali SBs and I are not on speaking terms…

I may have to try and find the fortress (though I am a lazy bastard and will probably not look too hard). You should bring a bottle if you ever make it to an offline


2 Katie Pizzuto January 29, 2009

Our palates are prob. similar because I’m not a fan of NZ SBs and forget Cali SBs, but like you said, I enjoy white Bourdeaux, especially Graves. I don’t think Fortress has much distribution in this neck of the woods which is why I guided you to their website…you can order there directly…doesn’t get much easier than that. When I originally reviewed this wine 2 years ago, it cost about $22 I think….and THAT price was still well worth it. I love a wine that is not only elegant and well-balanced, but has amazing aromatics, which many people don’t focus on. This fits the bill.


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