Is there a better wine choice for spring than sauvignon blanc? Its aromatic, lip-smacking fresh-tasting flavours seem to mirror the freshness in the air and our thinking as the weather warms up and pushes the final days of winter aside.
Sauvignon is making its way back into wine's mainstream thanks to a number of factors, although none can be considered more significant that the re-launch of the Stelvin or screwcap closure.
No longer the harbinger to cheap wine, the world's most progressive producers making delicate, aromatic, tightly wound whites are almost totally dependent upon the easy-opening, twist closure to all but eliminate the possibility of the wine being spoiled by a bad cork or, worse, suffering from the less identifiable but equally disabling cork taint.
From my vantage point of sipping thousands of white wines a year, the change in white wine quality is so dramatic we should no longer entertain any thoughts about buying sauvignon blanc bottled under cork — and that goes for most aromatic grapes such as riesling, albariño, viognier and even chardonnay.
Last weekend I took stock of the 70-odd sauvignon blancs that I've tasted this year and discovered that despite their varied origins many share an affinity with one another. One can only surmise that winemaking techniques and viticulture are playing a key role worldwide in shaping the flavours of wine. In some cases it appears they're able to transcend even the much vaunted notion of terroir.
Stylistically, most sauvignon breaks down into three categories: the pure varietal or un-wooded style with crisp acidity; the lightly oaked versions that combine some portion of barrel- fermented juice with tank-fermented juice, giving the wine a slightly richer and more complex flavour (my favourite, by the way); and the entirely barrel fermented, toasted-oak and lees-stirred style that gives the finished wine more of a chardonnay-like profile in the mouth.
Gone, by and large, are the excessively vegetative, bell pepper and canned asparagus notes and the bitter citrus rind flavours. The grassy aromas are still present but in a much more balanced setting. The positive aspect is the predominance of fresh grapefruit, green apple and kiwi and far more mineral notes.
So if you like great flavour, and you don't mind looking hip at the same time, my advice is to jump the red wine line and pick up some screwcap sauvignon blanc for that next party or picnic. Let's face it, sushi and red wine is a pairing disaster and with the bounty of seafood and indigenous goat cheese available across the country, it makes sense to revisit the new sauvignon blanc.
There's even better news when it comes to price. Sauvignon blanc represents terrific value by delivering big flavour at a reasonable price.
Our tour begins with the absolute best values and moves through the spectrum of prices. Always be sure to look for the youngest vintage you can find because when it comes to sauvignon, the fresher the better — just like the weather.
If there are a three or four amazing sauvignon bargains in the market, they all come from Chile. The Casillero del Diablo 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Reserva ($13) has been around for several years but specializes in crisp, creamy and elegant flavours of nettle, grapefruit, and jalapeno. Similar in style but made with organically grown grapes is the Cono Sur Organic 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($13.50) from San Antonio. The attack is juicy and vibrant with more pungent, smoky jalapeno and passion fruit flavours. Perfect with a summer-style goat cheese salad.
Maybe the single best buy in the market is the Santa Rita 2011 120 Sauvignon Blanc ($13). Lemon lime grass and guava mark the 120 nose with herbal, citrus, chalky grapefruit flavours on the palate. It's a super value for a wide array of seafood sushi or summer pasta salads.
Closer to home two local picks to look for are the Therapy Vineyards 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($20) and the Mission Hill 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve ($20) The Mission Hill gets a dusting of oak to add a bit of weight and texture to what is a mostly skinny wine with nettle, grapefruit, green apple, grassy lees aromas and passion fruit flavours. Perfect for west coast oysters or mussels. The Therapy is slightly more intense with similar juicy flavours of grass, grapefruit, lemon and gooseberry. An excellent foil to vegetarian dishes and grilled vegetables.
No sauvignon list can be considered full without some labels from New Zealand. One of my current favourite kiwi picks is the Mud House 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($20). The palate is slightly austere with lemon, granny smith, light bell pepper, grapefruit rind and light passion fruit flavours. Mussels and a loaf of French bread would be the perfect match here. Another label you can count on year in and year out is the Villa Maria 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Private Bin ($19). This wine is consistently fresh and clean — pure Marlborough sauvignon, if you like — with delicious passion fruit, oyster liqueur aromas mixed with bits of jalapeño, citrus and dried herbs.
One of the more intense wines you will find in private wine stores is the Greywacke 2011 Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($33), from Marlborough. Kevin Judd, one of the original founders of the iconic Cloudy Bay, has moved on to make his own wine grown on stony Marlborough soils referred to locally as greywacke. Intense aromas preview juicy, ripe grapefruit flavours white with bits of Granny Smith, jalapeno and spicy, gooseberry. A delicious, substantial white that would be perfect with grilled chicken.Sauvignon in America can be sweet and soft but when well-crafted like the Kendall-Jackson 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Vintner's Reserve ($24, private stores only) with its light melon, honey, grapefruit and pea shoot aromas with juicy, orange, passion fruit and baked pear flavours, it sure slides down easily.Finally, the Ferrari-Carano 2010 Fume Blanc ($25) from Sonoma County has a seriously lean, citrus fruity style you can serve with a wide range of foods. The attack is creamy and fresh, the flavours a mix of lemon grass and sweet melon fruit flecked with honey and ginger. Well done and seriously reliable.
Let's see now — a loaf of bread, some favourite cheese, a mountain meadow and modern sauvignon blanc. Let the summer begin!
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com