Ice skating fans were recently treated to thrilling Olympic routines by several countries including U.S. skaters Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu (both of whom missed the Olympics last time around and famously watched from home while eating In-N-Out burgers). After his triumphant routine, Rippon said “I’m going to go to Target and I’m going to get a bottle of Sauvignon blanc, Oyster Bay, with the twist top, immediately.” This reminded me once again how popular this grape variety is.
Oyster Bay is from Marlborough, New Zealand which has developed a trademark style of Sauvignon Blanc that features electric acidity, tart grapefruit, and grassy herbal aromas (due to pronounced pyrazines which are a savory flavor group originating from the aromatic compound methoxypyrazine). This style has been wildly popular over recent years. It’s so popular, in fact, that its often dismissed so I decided to revisit what Sauvignon Blanc brings to the table which is still a great plenty.
Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic, versatile grape that produces varying styles in many global regions including the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, Chile, California, New Zealand, Italy, South Africa, and Romania just to name a few. It is often found as a 100% variety but also blends well with its classic Bordeaux partners Semillon and Muscadelle as well as Feteascā Albā in Romania. Its high acidity and herbaceous profile express its birthplace differently depending on climate, soil, and viticultural methods.
Sauvignon Blanc (along with Cabernet Franc) is also one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon and is responsible for the herbaceous notes and pyrazines found in the latter. Sauvignon Blanc’s racy acidity and herbal notes make it an ideal pairing for many vegetable-based dishes, seafood/shellfish, and white meats.
Here are a few Sauvignon Blancs to try which are all under $16.
Rippon’s 2017 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($9.50) was tingling with electric acidity and explosive flavors of grapefruit, savory herbs, and citrus fruit. Definitely the most exuberant expression of this tasting and one that is a great love of blind tasters as its style is unmistakable.
The 2016 Estancia Sauvignon Blanc ($14.99) from Monterey County, California had the least pronounced nose of the wines here. It opened up later to boisterous acidity, red apple, white flower, and lemon herb flavors with a medium body and medium spicy finish.
The 2016 Root:1 Sauvignon Blanc ($10) from Casablanca Valley, Chile was bursting with green bell pepper and savory herbs. Grown on ungrafted vines as this vineyard is phylloxera-free (phylloxera is the root-eating louse that’s ruined much of the world’s vines), it clocked in at 12% alcohol which was the lowest of the bunch.
The 2012 Lacerta ($10.99) from the Dealu Mare region of Romania was a lovely blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Feteascā Albā (which means “white maiden”). This wine had an intriguing mix of almond, fennel, peach, melon, and earthy notes with good concentration and a lingering spicy finish. At 14% alcohol, this was the highest of this tasting but very well balanced.
The 2016 Les Hauts de Lagarde ($12.99) from Bordeaux was 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon, all grown organically. Lemon zest, wet rock, and citrus flavors opened up to white pepper and linear acidity on a round waxy palate with a tangy floral finish.
The above wines were primarily aged in stainless steel which preserves the fruit flavors and crisp style but if you want to try a different approach, look for a Fumé Blanc. This is a term coined by Robert Mondavi and is typically an oaked style. The 2015 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc ($15.99) was fuller in body with a lush, creamy palate and more vanilla and tropical fruit flavors due to partial barrel-fermentation and five months of aging in 60-gallon French oak barrels on its lees (sûr lie). This wine also included 4% Semillon in the Bordeaux tradition.
As you can see, there is a lot to appreciate about Sauvignon Blanc as millions (including Olympian Adam Rippon) have discovered. A consumer price-friendly and versatile food-pairing wine, it comes in a variety of expressions that offer something for everyone. Good luck Team U.S.A.!