California Wine: Savvy-B

Cat pee. Grass. Gooseberry. Bell pepper. Jalapeño. Straw. Stone. Lemon. These are just some of the odd and disparate descriptors for Sauvignon Blanc. Among the thousands of grape varieties planted all over the globe, none seems to provide such a wide array of adjectives.

A well-traveled grape, Sauvignon Blanc has taken the fortunes it made in France and bought summer homes in Napa Valley, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand. And much like an international con man, it takes on a different persona for each location.

This behavior began at an early age in its native homeland Bordeaux. It is there that Sauvignon Blanc pals around with the waxy Semillon making two distinctly different wines. They stand serious, austere, and dry in Graves while in Sauternes, the grapes enjoy the sweet life, making the viscous and vision-producing dessert wine. Moving just upstate to the Loire Valley, it often appears steely and stony, with a rapier wit and enough acidity to power a car battery. When Sauvignon Blanc packs its bags and heads out on holiday, it dresses the part well. There is no mistaking the role it plays in New Zealand, where gooseberry and green pepper notes dominate. Moving to Chile, a hint of creosote lies just beneath the surface.

Hop on a plane and head to California's Napa Valley and tropical fruits and citrus dominate the nose. Napa is only one of the locations in California for this vagabond varietal. A relatively recent location for the gallivanting grape is the Happy Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County, an area with rich magnesium deposits laced with sand, silt and clay that runs through the canyon. The easternmost AVA of the Santa Ynez Valley, this area has the hot days and cold nights that ripen Bordeaux varietals beautifully while still maintaining their acidity.

A distinct and delicious example from this area is Doug Margerum's 2010 Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc. This wine bursts with grapefruit and guava, with a full rich mouthfeel. It at once satisfies one's desire for a big juicy wine while wiping the plate clean with zingy acidity. Doug barrel ages some of the Sauvignon for this blend while stirring up the lees, and it shows. There is a subtle creamy complexity that wraps itself lightly around the abundant fruit. This wine easily pairs with anything from an avocado and fresh snap pea topped arugula salad to a butter poached sea bass finished with fresh herbs.

Doug Margerum's 2010 Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc retails for about $17.

[Photo of Margerum corks from their website; photo of Santa Barbara wine grapes by chrisamichaels/Flickr.]

Los Angeles resident Michael Newsome, a wine buyer for Whole Foods and a Certified Italian Wine Specialist, joins us every Tuesday for an exploration of California wine. See his previous posts here.


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I spend my life eating, drinking, cooking, brewing and traveling.
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