By The Wine Guys, Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
We’ve written about sauvignon blanc from the far corners of the world over the years. Each country seems to develop a particular style according to the various terroirs reflected in their respective lands. France does both oaked and unoaked versions of the grape with prices ranging from $10-$40 for bright acidic and mineral Loire Valley sancerres to hundreds of dollars for oaked versions from the grand cru classe chateaus of Bordeaux and now California. Moderately priced New Zealand sauvignon blanc often features bright, unoaked citrus notes -- especially grapefruit and grass flavors. Because of a terrible spring, production of the iconic Marborough sauvigon blanc is down 30 percent.
California has their own take on this early ripening grape variety. Many wineries craft a wine that can be released in six months or less. Overall, we have found California expressions of sauvignon blanc lean toward riper fruits, especially peach, with underlying citrus notes and just a hint of herbs. For those put off by aggressive grassy and herbal elements or intense grapefruit flavors and acidity, California sauvignon blanc may be for you.
As we head into spring – a perfect time to re-engage with this spirited grape variety -- we tasted several offerings from California that displayed a nice variety of styles and showed off the creativity of their winemakers. Following are our tasting impressions.
Justin Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast 2020 ($18-20). This nice, well-priced and widely available expression of sauvignon blanc presents an appealing combination of lemony citrus notes and ripe peach flavors.
Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2020 ($20). A strong dose of herbs and grass are present in the nose with flavors that show ripe peach. An interesting wine.
Clay Shannon Sauvignon Blanc Lake County Betsy Vineyard 2020 ($30). This wine is all floral notes with a hint of violet, and ripe fruit flavors of apple and peach. Not a hint of herbs or grassy elements. One of our top three favorites.
Davis Estates Sauvignon Blanc Private Reserve Napa Valley 2019 ($38). A nose of peach and apples. Very supple, rich and round in the mouth with a long creamy finish. Ten percent aged in used oak gives this fine wine a nice complexity.
Banshee Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2020 ($22). Our favorite of the tasting, this beauty presents the many potential facets of California sauvignon blanc. Ripe peach, floral notes, a bit of citrus and a hint of herbs are all present in this example. Thirty percent inclusion of the musque clone adds to this delicious wine’s complexity and appeal.
Aperture Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2020 ($40). This is our only example of a barrel fermented sauvignon blanc in the tasting. Winemaker Jesse Katz brought his winemaking experience from Chateau Haut Brion to this Aperture sauvignon blanc/semillon. Very Bordeaux-like. Coconut notes in nose and mouth with a hint of citrus and herbs. Very elegant.
One Hope Estate Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($45). More complex than your usual sauvignon blanc, the One Hope has layered flavors of peach, citrus and tropical fruit.
Cult Wine Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($18). Tropical fruit notes dominate this delicious Napa Valley wine whose label will remind you of The Mattrix. It is aged six months in oak to give it more dimension.
Hirsch Vineyards is located in the Fort- Ross Seaview district of the Sonoma Coast wine growing district, a cool area only 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Pinot noir and chardonnay thrive here. Neighboring vineyards are owned by several superstar wineries such as Flowers, Martinelli and Marcassin.
Hugging the Pacific Coast at 1,500 feet elevation, these rolling hills once were covered by redwood trees. After the trees were harvested over the past 150 years, the bare soils eroded to the valleys below. Now, a thin layer of soil covers sandstone rocks and sand and clay subsoil. It’s an area of extremes with torrential rainfall during the fall and winter with almost 80 inches falling annually, and an arid span from April through October. In comparison, Maryland averages about 44 inches per year and the Florida receives 40-60 inches annually.
Lurking thousands of feet below is the San Andreas fault where two tectonic plates are grinding against each other and occasionally unleashing chaotic earthquakes all along the California coast.
David Hirsch planted the vineyards in 1980 and is recognized for championing the production of high-quality pinot noir in the area. Hirsch farms about 66 acres pinot noir and 4 acres of chardonnay grapes.
Hirsch farms an amazing 60 discrete blocks of grapes with each block consisting of rootstocks that match the prevailing soil.
We recently tasted several current vintage offerings from Hirsch and were very impressed with their individuality and quality. Following are our impressions.
Hirsch Vineyards Chardonnay Sonoma Coast Estate 2020 ($65). A very expressive chardonnay featuring an opulent nose and flavor notes of apple and lemon with a medium-body, cream-like finish.
Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Bohan-Dillon 2019 ($35). This is a great entry point for this vineyard but be patient. We found cherry cola notes to dominate in an elegant presentation but sensed 2-4 years would add complexity and allow this wine to open.
Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir San Andreas Fault Estate 2019 ($60). A hint of wild cherries in the nose with ripe and wild cherry notes in the mouth, this wine is very smooth and rich.
Lake Sonoma Winery Lazy Dog Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($65). From the Sonoma Valley, this expressive cabernet has a generous mouthfeel with bright cherry aromas and red fruit flavors.
Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir 2019 ($48). This vineyard is dry farmed, which means the grapes mature at a lower Brix and produce wines with lower alcohols and big aromas. We liked it a lot. Broad aromas of cherries and pomegranates. Supple, red berry flavors with a dash of cloves.
Bodegas Beronia Reserva 2017 ($25). This blend of tempranillo, mazuelo and graciano is a blockbuster. Dark in color, it has plum and nutty aromas chased by ripe plum and black cherry flavors. Full bodied, it is a wine that calls for beef. Equally astounding in body is the 2013 Beronia Gran Reserva ($30). The additional bottle age gives this wine a rounder texture but it is equally generous and forward. These two wines remind us of the values that can be found in Spain. You will not be disappointed.