Thursday 31 July 2014

Oaked Sauvignon Blanc - balance, complexity and a welcome respite from cat's pee

[This is a digested version, though with more recommendations, of a longer article on the US website]

Was there ever a danger of Sauvignon Blanc going the same way as Chardonnay – of an ‘Anything but Sauvignon’ movement to match the ABC craze?

Here’s the former Slate columnist Michael Steinberger, for example, mocking the grape's "chirpy little wines wholly devoid of complexity and depth … a limp, lemony liquid that grows progressively more boring with each sip." Articles with titles like '10 Alternatives to Sauvignon' are more and more common; I've heard independent merchants talking about increasing requests for a crisp white, 'but not Sauvignon'.

But there's no evidence to suggest Sauvignon is in danger of even the smallest blip in sales. Bibendum, the Wine Society and many other retailers reports sales as strong as ever.

A tasting (in July at London Cru, the capital's first urban winery) comprised 32 oaked wines from Australia, New Zealand, California, Chile, Loire, Bordeaux, South Africa and Turkey.
All the wines had oak treatment of some kind. Some were barrel-fermented, some spent 10 months in new French oak barriques, others far less time, 50% second-use barrels, others eight month medium toast, others 15 months in old oak. … With oak, the variables are infinite.

Looking down the list, a common factor was restraint. I didn't expect such freshness and restraint in the American wines, for example, although the New Zealanders showed their classic colours -- gooseberry, robust sweaty aromas, nettle and grass. Surprising also was the complexity on show: judicious use of oak tempers the green pepper or asparagus flavours that people can find offensive, and bring more of what UK critic Sarah Ahmed calls "the Bordeaux style, more lemon oil notes -- it's a striking feature."

"Limp and lemony … devoid of complexity"? Not at all. The best of these wines have bracing acidity and fine complex fruit. I noted the following flavours: apple, pear, sour apple, sugared pear skin, honey, apple custard, fresh hay, salinity, river mud, lemon, lemongrass, apricot, sweat, earth.

I used the descriptor "gooseberry" three times, "cat's pee" not at all.

Top 10 oaked Sauvignon Blancs
Prices are approximate; oaking regimes as supplied by winery

Larry Cherubino ‘Cherubino’ 2013, Pemberton, Western Australia
100% Sauvignon Blanc
100% new, 3 mths ageing
Delicate gooseberry and hint of oak on the nose. Sour apple and pearskin palate leading to tropical notes – sweet stone fruit. Long and elegant, very fine
Alc 12.5% £25.99 UK: Inverarity Morton, Drinkmonger ; US n/a

Château Talbot  Caillou Blanc 2012, Bordeaux blanc, France
74% Sauvignon 26% Semillon
35% new oak barriques, 35% 1yr old, 30% 3rd fill for 8 mths
Unexpressive nose but quickly a lovely interesting palate with honey freshness salinity, good ripe acidity, mouthwatering sweet pear and peach and fine, sophisticated weight
Alc 14% £15/$27-30 UK: Fine & Rare; US: Millesima, MacArthur Beverages

Château Brown 2012, Pessac-Léognan, Bordeaux, France
64% Sauvignon 36% Semillon
8 mths in medium toast barriques, 50% new, 50% 2nd fill.
Really fresh impression of intense chalky acidity, fine pear and apple (Granny Smith) with an almost tannic heft. The mid-palate is dry with promise of a dissolve to juice. Lovely, mouthwatering wine
Alc 13.5% £25/$36 UK: Soho Wines, Ellis of Richmond, Tesco; US: Owen’s Liquors, Kessler Wines and Spirits

Huia Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Wairau, Marlborough, New Zealand
100% Sauvignon Blanc
A portion was fermented in neutral French oak barrels.
Elegant refined nose with nettle and hint of green mown grass. The palate unmistakeably New Zealand, with gooseberry, lime and more nettley, hedgrerow flavours. Fine fresh acidity, fine weight
Alc 14% £13/$15-20 UK: Winedirect, Quintessentially Wine; US: Astor Wines, Lincoln Fine Wines

Yealands Winemakers Reserve 2013, Awatere, Marlborough, New Zealand
100% Sauvignon Blanc
30% fermented and aged in French oak barrels, 5% new
Classic sweaty nose with gooseberry, intense and powerful palate with dancing acidity. Lovely fresh, fearlessly classic Marlborough Sauvignon
Alc 13.5% £14.95 UK: Great Western Wine;  US: n/a

Valdivieso Wild Fermented Single Vineyard 2012, Leyda, Chile
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Aged for 6mths in 500l French oak barrels
Powerful aroma of struck match at first, hint of reduction, earthy smell of river mud, not overwhelming, then on the palate lime and lemon, vanilla, robust acidity, very open and refreshing, good length, complex and very fine
Alc 13% £13.95 UK: Winedirect;  US: n/a

Chimney Rock, Elevage Blanc 2010, Napa Valley, USA
47% Sauvignon 43% Sauvignon Gris
Two thirds Fermented + aged for 6mths in Fr oak, 1/3 new, 1/3 old
Fresh with honey and creamy notes on the nose, repeated on the palate with grainy, dense acidity, passion fruit, kiwi, excellent weight and mouthfeel, good zippy acid length
Alc 14.5% £24.99/$22-25 UK: Cellarvie, Matthew Clark;  US:, Saratoga Wine Exchange, M&D Fine Wines and Spirits, widely available

Duckhorn Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2102, Napa Valley, USA
83% Sauvignon 17% Semillon
15% barrel-fermented in new oak, 5mths sur lie
There’s noticeable oak on the nose and early palate serving to enhance the pear and spiced apple flavours. Good weight and length. Fine
Alc 13.5% £28 UK:;  US: Gramercy, Wally’s Wine and Spirits, widely available

Mondavi Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley, USA
87% Sauvignon 13% Semillon
Barrel fermented
Fresh and creamy, tropical, creamy notes of apple and custard, then spice (sandalwood), giving an exotic character. Very well-made, nice racy acidity at end
Alc 13.5% £16/$9-12 UK: Templar Wines, Matthew Clark;  US: widely available

Lis Neris, Picol, Friuli Isonzo, Italy
100% Sauvignon Blanc
Some of wine aged for 11mths in 500l Fr oak
Classic grassy aromas, hay (fresh hay), savoury denseness to palate, good weight, citrus character rounded out by ripe apple, excellent zesty length with good acid balance
Alc 14% £24 UK: Fields Morris and Verdin;  US: Mister Wright Fine Wines and Spirits, Wine Ranger Cellars

[For a fuller version of this article see]

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