Monday, January 24, 2005

Winecology: Sauvignon Blanc Around the World

Sauvignon Blanc is one of those grape varieties that is grown successfully all around the world. However, due to the effects of climate, it can taste vastly different from one end of the globe to the other. I recently had the chance to taste and compare three such contrasting styles. The first from Sauvignon Blanc's homeland of France's Loire Valley. The second and third from the New World - California and New Zealand. The three wines varied on several dimensions like concentration, body, mouthfeel and finish. Still though, they all displayed common flavor profiles including Sauvignon Blanc's distinct gooseberry and herbaceous character.

Pascal Jolivet - Sancerre, Loire Valley - 2003
Light straw in color. Strong aromas of chalk, slate and hay with occasional citrus notes. A tingling mouthfeel and fresh zestiness was abundant. Immediate taste of gunsmoke like flintiness. Additional flavors of gooseberry, citrus, fig and "green" tree fruits. A very clean and medium length finish. This effort seemed very natural to me - an honest expression of the grape's personality. It made for a perfect dinner pairing with spinach salad and chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese.
Rating - 8.5 out of 10
Price - $16

Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc - Napa Valley, CA - 2003
It shows a nearly colorless ultra-light straw. Aromatic notes of melon, lime, grapefruit and gooseberry. On the palette only mild acidity that doesn't quite hang with ripe citrus fruitiness. It also felt a little restrained by some underlying bitterness. Her balance was out of whack. The finish was intense and lasting, albeit astringent. Somehow this particular California expression of Sauvignon Blanc was too heavy and just didn't do it for me.

In Jancis Robinson's excellent book, "How To Taste", we are told that, "the problem with Sauvignon Blanc in a warm climate is that it can rapidly lose its refreshing acidity and the zippy quality of the aroma." She goes on to explain that these nearer-to-the-equator wines often times see oak to balance natural flabbiness stemming from higher sugar/alcohol content and earlier ripening patters. Seems like a good call by Jancis.
Rating - 7.0 out of 10
Price - $21

Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough, New Zealand - 2004
The wine was pale straw in color with a pronounced green tint. An explosive nose. Passion fruit, floral leaves, spice, minerality. Once in the mouth it felt deliciously supple offering sharp acidity and sweetness all in balance. The flavors were concentrated and pointed. Loads of pear and green apple fruits. Green vegetal flavors on a long finish that penetrates the back palette. This wine sees no oak and its totally apparent by its natural form. What a superb effort. A great match with Chicken Biryani - a not too spicy Indian dish featuring basmati rice, chicken and a medley of herbs and spices including coriander, cumin, bay leaves, saffron, cardamom, ginger and garlic.
Rating - 9.0/9.5 out of 10
Price - $14