One less-remarked-upon outcome of the perhaps much-too-remarked-upon “Paris Tasting” of 1976 is the shotgun-wedding effect it had on Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Better known by the names of their home villages in far-apart Bordeaux and Burgundy, the two assumed the throne as the reigning varietal wines of Napa Valley. Sauvignon Blanc, the actual mother of Cabernet, was let in the side door under an assumed name, Fumé Blanc. Now, especially among producers of Bordeaux-style wines in Napa and northern Sonoma, a varietally labeled Sauvignon Blanc is almost the rule.
13 Celsius Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($17) Hoping to calibrate my palate to the so-called New Zealand style, I find a newly launched wine (after careful test marketing) with a calibration of its own: the back label is supposed to turn blue when it reaches optimal serving temperature, 55 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m still waiting for the label to do anything but indicate that it may be a sign of market saturation that Savvy must now be sold with a gimmick. But it’s spot-on representing for the style: green apple Jolly Rancher, kiwi fruit and sour Pixy Stix acidity tickling a cool, fruity finish.
Captûre 2014 Tradition Sauvignon Blanc ($30) Must favorites always be priciest? This Lake County and Sonoma County cuvée zaps the palate with as much lemony zing as the following wines, but floats a little higher on the tongue, and recalls not just lemon, but those granola lemon bars once sold at a favorite cafe.
Salvestrin 2014 St. Helena Sauvignon Blanc ($25) From a family of longtime Napa growers, whose wines are perhaps best known for being “undiscovered,” this teases with lemon merengue pie aromas sweetening up herbal notes of just-dry hay. Creamy lemon pastry flavor adds appeal but not weight to a lean body. This is what I expect from the better examples of contemporary Napa SB.
Captûre 2014 Les Pionniers Sauvignon Blanc ($45) I should have said pricier, not priciest—with more aggressively herbal character, citrus pith and bitter melon, this is also typical of the varietal, but I don’t prefer it to the Tradition—at least not today.
Clif Family 2015 Rte Blanc Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28) Named for the “white roads” of Italy traversed by founder Gary Erickson. A little smoke, a bit of apricot, honeydew melon and pear, easy on the lemon in this juicy, soft Blanc. The label shows Erickson crushing a hill on his bike, suggesting that this screw-capped wine might come in handy if packed in your bike bag.