Pandemic drinking habits have come in for their share of timely humor: happy hour at 11:00 a.m., a little wine in your water bottle so your homeschooling children won’t notice … Whether or not there’s truth to the anecdotes claiming our consumption is up, one thing is certain—this was the year Sauvignon Blanc began unseating Chardonnay as our go-to glass of white wine. Winemakers tell me sales are surging, and they have some thoughts about why. Sauv Blanc is in tune with how we eat today, versatile enough to pair across a generous gamut of foods, from ceviche to risotto to pork sausage (oysters are a given). It’s bold. It’s vibrant. It’s (mostly) well priced.
Sauvignon is also highly individualistic. Xavier Barlier, SVP for Marketing and Communication for Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, which imports the lovely Ladoucette from the Loire Valley, says simply, “Sauvignon Blanc is a planet.” And Aron Weinkauf, both winemaker and vineyard manager for Spottswoode in Napa Valley, echoes the sentiment about the range of styles the variety shows from the far-flung regions where it thrives—the Loire and Bordeaux in France, Italy, California, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile—“I love the nuance and diversity it shows throughout its global representations,” he says.
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But Weinkauf is proof of another trend in Sauvignon Blanc. Winemakers are increasingly taking the trouble to focus on great vineyard sites and coax out nuance in the cellar. It’s not enough anymore for SB to be a simple sip (although that might work in the water bottle). The best now are studies in texture and weight, complexity and perfect balance between ripe fruit and bright acidity. Weinkauf accomplishes this (Spottswoode’s Sauvignon is a perennial benchmark) through complicated fruit sources and a dizzying array of fermentation vessels, from French and Hungarian oak to concrete to clay amphora. “Yes, it’s complex and time consuming,” he says, “but we love the different components we have and how we’re able to blend them into a singular wine of great depth, complexity, energy and longevity.” (For all that, it’s a steal.)
We’ve collected our most recent favorites here, spanning the gamut of styles, because Sauvignon Blanc deserves the spotlight across the best of the spectrum.
Cloudy Bay 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand
From the producer that put New Zealand Sauvignon on the map comes a beautiful new vintage from some of Marlborough’s oldest vineyards. Lovely aromatics open, on this 2020 Cloudy Bay, with lime, gooseberry and peach mingling with a little boxwood and the perfume of tropical blossoms. Texture, concentration and vibrant tension distinguish the palate, with stone fruit, citrus and fresh herb flavors joining forces through an impressively long finish.
Crescere 2018 Ritchie Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley
One of few Sonoma projects overseen by Napa-based (and French-born) consultant Philippe Melka, Crescere is the creation of Joe Reynoso, son of immigrant agricultural workers in California’s Central Valley, and his wife, Elena. This 2018 Sauvignon Blanc from Ritchie Vineyard, with about a third in new French oak, earned 98 points from prominent critic Jeb Dunnuck, an almost unheard-of feat for an SB—or any white for that matter. Lovely jasmine and honeyed citrus open, backed by hints of a fresh ocean breeze. Touches of spice from that oak layer on the palate, along with an appealing saltiness under stone fruit, grapefruit, tropicals and hints of Asian pear. The wine is focused and concentrated but rich and mouth-filling too.
Darioush 2018 Sage Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
A little elevation and breezes off the bay cool Sage Vineyard, the source for this perfumed Sauvignon Blanc from Darioush. White blossom and graceful oak spice aromas are layered with grapefruit and appealing minerality, followed by a highly textural and mouth-filling gamut of flavors: peach and apricot, Meyer lemon and Asian pear. There’s quite a bit of weight here (six months in oak, 15 percent new), but the wine is fresh and lifted, with fresh herbs joining citrus on a long finish.
de Ladoucette 2018 Pouilly-Fumé Loire Valley
Xavier Barlier, SVP for Marketing and Communication for Maisons Marques & Domaines USA, which imports Ladoucette (in a broad portfolio), calls this benchmark Loire white a “Sauvignon Blanc without any makeup.” Fermented in stainless steel and aged in concrete tanks on the lees, it’s a classic expression of Pouilly-Fumé, with no intervention. A mineral-rich nose opens with hints of florals, pear, lime, fresh herbs and wet stones followed by a lovely and lively flavor palate steeped in citrus with hints of stone fruit. The wine is delicate but textured and complex, round but vivid, with a sprinkling of savory sea salt on the finish.
Ehlers Estate 2020 Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena, Napa Valley
A combination of neutral oak, concrete egg and a new French puncheon were employed in making this steal of an SB from Ehlers. Wet-stone freshness opens along with citrus that leans in the lime direction, with hints of white blossoms wafting from the glass as well. There’s a lovely balance of mouth-feel and texture here with brightness and vividness. Lemon, grapefruit and white peach get a little splash of orange on the finish. This is one to drink all summer long.
Grieve Family Winery 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
Another notable wine from Philippe Melka, this vibrant, richly textured Sauv Blanc from Grieve Family mixes time-honored white Bordeaux tradition (17 months in 60 percent new French oak) with experimental treatment (20 percent concrete egg). A beautiful mélange of aromatics swirls on the nose—minerals and earth with spices, florals, citrus blossom and Crenshaw melon. Bright for all that oak, the mouth-filling palate is layered with peach dressed with lime zest, grapefruit and textures that unfold into a lingering finish.
Jonata 2018 FLOR Ballard Canyon Santa Ynez Valley
A splash of Sémillon in this SB from Santa Barbara’s Jonata rounds the wine with some creamy weight. Hints of honeysuckle float above lemon, fresh herbs and wet-stone minerality on the nose, with beautiful ripe stone fruit, grapefruit and guava following on the palate. This white delivers terrific texture, mouth-feel and weight, but it’s also bright and lifted with lime zest through a lingering finish. On the end, a lovely savory quality—a saline note that winemaker Matt Dees dubs “sea salt”—gives the wine an intriguing sophistication.
Julien Fayard 2018 McGah Family Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford, Napa Valley
There’s a bit of new French oak in this impressive Sauvignon from the namesake label that consulting winemaker Julien Fayard recently launched. Opening with exotic blossoms and citrus—the likes of yuzu and buddha’s hand—the nose is layered with oyster-shell minerality and spice. Juicy melon and grapefruit follow, with touches of tropicals and a bushel of lemons. The wine is incredibly fresh even with all its gravitas, and graceful in spite of the weight and mouth-filling texture from that new French oak.
Kelleher Family Vineyards 2018 Block 21 Sauvignon Blanc Oakville, Napa Valley
A touch of neutral oak and some stirring of the lees create lovely balance in this citrus-splashed Sauv Blanc from Kelleher. A briny ocean breeze blows through delicate white blossoms wrapping fresh-squeezed lemon and green herbs on the nose. A core of sweet lemon extends to the palate, layered with melon and white peach—lime zest following up on the finish. This one is vibrant, tense (that’s a good thing) and textural. It’s also a deal!
Lail Vineyards 2018 Georgia Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
Widely considered the pioneer of barrel fermenting and aging Sauvignon Blanc, Lail Vineyards (with Philippe Melka as winemaker) has delivered another gorgeous argument for the style, with its 2018 “Georgia.” From a miniscule, 3-acre, dry-farmed vineyard in Yountville, the wine offers distinctive but well-integrated oak spice mingling with white blossom aromas, exotic citrus—lemongrass, yuzu—and fresh herbs. Complex, textural and mouth-filling, the palate runs the gamut of grapefruit, peach skin, white nectarine, apricot and guava, delivered with power and weight.
Rusack Vineyards Estate 2017 Icon Sauvignon Blanc Ballard Canyon
With only 24 cases of this oak-aged SB from Santa Barbara, Rusack introduces both a distinctive and a rarified white, with 11 months in French oak. An exotic nose offers up tropical floral and fruit—white blossoms on a warm night, pineapple, guava, vanilla and orange. A mouth-filling but bright palate delivers ripe (but dry) tangy pineapple, passion fruit and stone fruit with beautiful texture.
Spottswoode 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Napa County and Sonoma County
The latest Sauvignon from Spottswoode, releasing June 1, 2021, confirms the wine’s reputation as one of the great versions of the variety worldwide. But winemaker and vineyard manager Aron Weinkauf has his work cut out for him keeping track of all of his fermenting vessels, with 43 percent of the vintage in stainless steel barrels, 41 percent in French oak barrels, 2 percent in Hungarian oak barrels, 6 percent in concrete cuves and 3 percent in clay amphora. The aromas mingle florals, fruit and minerals, with grapefruit and lemongrass emerging. Bright stone fruit—apricot and peach—pops on the palate, leading to a gamut of citrus, from lemon zest to clementine, edged in savory crushed herbs. Texture and energy combine to create focus out of complexity.
Turnbull 2020 Josephine Sauvignon Blanc Oakville, Napa Valley
Fans of Turnbull’s “Josephine” won’t be disappointed by the 2020—if anything, this vintage is more complex and delightful than ever. Opening with exotic citrus, pink grapefruit, guava and spicy honeysuckle on the nose, the wine gives up a mouthful of fruit on the palate: a gamut of citrus, including clementine, with stone fruit and hints of tropicals. Weight contrasts with vibrance and roundness with brightness.
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