Sauvignon blanc, always the bridesmaid to chardonnay, needs a reality-show makeover. “As a category, it’s just stable,” says Central Market’s wine and beer manager Heidi Holcomb, who notes that other white grapes, pinot grigio, for example, have enjoyed an uptick in popularity.
The new-hairdo approach has been tried before — notably by Robert Mondavi, who coined the term fumé blanc and applied it, as a marketing device, to Mondavi sauvignon blanc that had been produced with the Loire’s Pouilly-fumé in mind. The fumé name, perhaps sounding classier, caught on and is now used interchangeably with sauvignon blanc in California, regardless of any stylistic differences. Omniboire suggests a different approach.
We’re thinking of a down-market one in the manner of Gruvee, the cutesy term coined to make Americans feel less intimidated by Austria’s grüner veltliner grape. (This has worked almost too well in some markets — though not San Antonio. Yet.) So what we’re suggesting is Sauvy. OK, we found it on the back label of a bottle from New Zealand, but it got us thinking about how the southern hemisphere has become a champion of the grape in many different longitudes, from South Africa to Chile. Hence this tasting, hosted by the generous folks at Zinc Bistro & Wine Bar. (Their cool, in every sense of the word, wine cellar, was another incentive during these prematurely doggy days.)
Assembled to taste was a trio of wine-savvy women: Central Market’s Holcomb, Felicia Gonzales from Serendipity Wine Imports, and Lynn Forres, wine aficionada and owner/operator of Huisache Grill in New Braunfels. We tasted 10 wines, blind as usual, and it may come as no surprise that the country most known for Sauvy these days, New Zealand, came out on top. N.B: Their wines are no longer necessarily the breakfast-in-a-bottle grapefruit bombs they were early on.
Another note before we begin: These wines ranged in price from about $12 to $22, so there’s no excuse for not trying at least a couple of them. We often don’t mention the wines that score below the 13/20 point cutoff, but the 2008 Tabalí Linari Valley from the “most northerly premium winery in Chile” struck two tasters as being appealingly “pale and ephemeral,” with “lots of fresh-mown grass,” while others “had to search for fruit” and detected “bitterness” — resulting in two quite decent scores and two very low ones. Tastemaker Robert Parker, or one of his minions, found that it “way over-delivers for its humble price” ($13 in San Antonio) and awarded it 90 points. Omniboire wouldn’t go higher than 85, but on re-tasting it did offer up the mineral and passion fruit he suggested — plus the still-prominent grass he did not. You might differ with our collective assessments on the other wines, too, but as we noted above, at the price you have little to lose. Besides, it’s summer. Chill ’em well and knock ’em down.2009 Jules Taylor Atwatere and Wairau Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (NZ), $18
“I feel like I’m in the middle of a jungle,” enthused Holcomb. “It’s pretty and fun, and I get guava paste.” “It’s big with spice, lime, and pineapple; it has great balance,” claimed Forres. “It’s so `new` New Zealand,” seconded Gonzales, who also got pineapple along with a nice mineral quality. Omniboire detected lime peel, ripe gooseberry, and even a little tarragon. Fittingly for our new campaign, this wine used “Sauvy” on the back label.
2009 Mohua Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (NZ), $15 (Best Value)
“It’s luscious, tropical, and reminds me of a market in San Miguel de Allende — don’t wait even an hour, or the fruit will be too ripe,” offered Forres. Gonzales countered with images of a tropical beach. “The aroma reminds me of a Creed perfume,” she said. (Apart from the fact that it retails around $200, we suggest Creed’s Virgin Island Water for men and women; it has notes of lime, coconut, and fresh herbs.) “It made me happy,” summarized Holcomb.
2009 Falernia Elqui Valley Sauvignon Blanc (Chile), $13
Holcomb noted that this wine, one of her favorites at Central Market, was from way-northern Chile, a region that usually grows grapes for pisco. She got guava and tropical fruit and an acidity that “made my mouth water.” “Mint, melon, and a lot of green grassiness,” suggested Gonzales. “It had great balance, so nothing jumped out,” said Forres, who did find a little minerality and thought it would be a chardonnay drinker’s sauvignon blanc.
2009 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc (NZ), $18-$20
Food pairing suggestions spontaneously emerged with this wine, which, according to Forres, is being made with food uppermost in mind. She suggested white pizza and fried oysters. “Goat cheese,” offered Holcomb. “It’s got surprisingly subtle floral and talcum notes,” thought Gonzales, who could see it with chicken and tarragon.
2009 Mulderbosch Western Cape Sauvignon Blanc (South Africa), $22
Holcomb, who seemed especially attuned to guava (Omniboire agrees) found it again in this one, along with a light and elegant quality. “It’s lovely, more buttery than most, and has just enough cat pee,” claimed Gonzales. (Yes, cat pee is often thought of in positive terms by those who don’t regularly clean litter boxes.) “I had the hardest time determining country of origin on this one, but it’s lovely and brings me back for more,” said Forres.
2008 Koura Bay Atwatere Valley Marlborough (NZ), $17
One of the few non-2009 wines in the tasting, this one struck two tasters as being especially easy-drinking. “Great both with food and on the patio; it’s seamless,” suggested Forres. “White peach, toasted bread,” was Holcomb’s take. “Herbaceous, grassy, and minerally; I wanted asparagus with pancetta and a poached egg,” fantasized Gonzales.
2008 Graham Beck South Africa Sauvignon Blanc, $12
The back label of this bottle uses the term “sundowner” to describe a wine especially apt for closing out a day. The winemaker suggests serving it with sashimi, though its roundness and tropical tones make it especially flexible. “I almost thought there might be a touch of riesling or chenin,” said Holcomb, who found beautiful, exotic fruit and “wanted more.” “Creamy” was Gonzales’s assessment, though she also noted flint, chalk, and smoke — the inspiration for the “fumé” in fumé blanc.
2008 Sauvignon Republic Cellars Marlborough (NZ), $16-$20
Sauvignon Republic is a boutique winery dedicated to producing solely sauvignon blanc in what they have determined to be the world’s best regions for cultivating it: California, France, New Zealand, and South Africa. Our example was New Zealand’s 2008 Marlborough. “I want goat cheese!” affirmed Gonzales, while Holcomb found a sweet, vanilla-icing quality and suggestions of a Bordeaux blanc. “Green, oily, and a little flat,” countered Forres. Can’t win ’em all.
2009 Carlos Basso Tunuyán Mendoza (Argentina), $12
This wine contains 10-percent sauvignon gris, a clonal mutation, and it got mixed reviews. “Wet dog and yeast … reminded me of Sancerre,” offered Holcomb. “Hoppy and light-bodied, but good for drinking outdoors,” thought Forres. “Herbaceous with raw bell pepper,” sniffed Gonzales. Omniboire found it funky, with dill notes, but thought it better on the palate than on the nose. •