La Torre 2012

“If you love elegant, age-worthy Sangiovese, then stock your wine cellar with 2012 Brunello di Montalcino.” – Kerin O’Keefe

latorre

We’ve had a few Brunellos from the classic 2012 vintage and by now you’ve hopefully had a chance to try a bottle. If so, you see why we (and Kerin O’Keefe and other Brunello experts) are so excited about the vintage. It’s not a massive vintage like glories past—2010 or 2001. It’s not a ripe vintage like 2007 or 1997. Instead, it is utterly classic in just the way that Sangiovese wants to be, interweaving Brunello’s generous fruit with nervosity, ethereality, and savory notes. It’s surprisingly approachable (the acidity really helps), but also with the structure and balance to age effortlessly.

In short: 2012 is a killer vintage.

So we couldn’t be more excited to present one of our very favorite producers, a wine that has been on our shelves since the day we opened: La Torre’s 2012 Brunello di Montalcino.

The thing to know about La Torre is that it resides in a slightly different neighborhood. The classic houses, like Biondi-Santi, cluster in the village of Montalcino, proper. La Torre is five miles to the south in the DOC’s highest corner, where the Sangiovese ripens slowly and evenly, often ready for harvest only in October.

La Torre’s style is really attractive. It offers the warming caress of any great Brunello, but also goes long on Brunello’s savory side. It has Brunello’s classic profile of “wild cherries,” but here the cherries seem extra wild. It’s always a giving wine, fine to drink young, a rare treat to drink old.

And older Le Torre is both rare and a treat. This Brunello is definitely in that special category of wines that you just have to cellar yourself: they don’t make much and it doesn’t trade at auctions, so this is your change to stock up.

La Torre, Brunello di Montalcino, 2012 

Top Five Steak Wines

Grilling season is now upon us, and a good grilled steak is just about the only excuse you need in warmer weather to open up a big red wine. But some red wines work with steak better than others.  Here is a top 5 list, in no particular order:

steakwines

1.  Brunello di Montalcino.  Anyone who has had Steak Florentine in Tuscany knows that Sangiovese is the perfect partner for steak, and Brunello is the grandest and noblest Sangiovese. Keep it on the young side, to ensure good fruit vigor and lively tannins. Consider giving your steak full Tuscan treatment: cook it rare but with a crusty exterior (which should be coated in salt, pepper and if you like some minced rosemary or sage), and then dress the sliced steak with salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

My choice:  Lisini, Brunello di Montalcino, 2012 ($56.99)

2.  Argentinian Malbec. No, our shop is not known for its Malbecs and the category isn’t my favorite in general, as far too many are made in a glossy, international style. But there are some made honestly and traditionally and they are simply perfect for the rich steak culture of Argentina.  The best have voluptuous red fruit, gentle spice and velvety tannins that are harmonious with beef.

My choice:  Carmelo Patti, Malbec, 2013 ($29.99)

3.   Ribera del Duero.  If you’ve read Bill Bufford’s great Heat, you know that the great beef of Tuscany actually comes from Spain. This has been confirmed by my own experience eating a gorgeous steak in Valladolid, the vibrant city that lies just at the western end of Ribera del Duero. The local wine was served, and as much as I associate these wines with lamb, it turns out it’s also a pretty great steak wine.

My choice:  Pesquera, Ribera del Duero Reserva, 2012 ($49.99)

4.  Right Bank Bordeaux.  No, don’t drink “clarets” or old Bordeaux with steak — save those for more subtle meat preparations like braises or roasts.  For your steak, open up some fleshy young Merlot from St. Emilion, Pomerol or, to save a little cash, Fronsac. It’s got those same Malbec-like tannins that are round and velvety, seemingly designed with steak in mind. I would look at vintages like 2004, 2006, 2009, and 2012.

My choice: Chateau Valois, Pomerol, 2012 ($54.99)

5.  California Cabernet.  I’m saving the easy one for last. Go to any American steak house and you’ll see that the wine list is filled with Cali Cabs. It’s a classic. Be careful, as it’s really easy to over-pay for some new-fangled brand just because it got a high score in a glossy magazine. To be safe, stick with classics, like my choice below.

My choice:  Heitz, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 ($57.99)

Amiot-Servelle

amiot
Amiot-Servelle has great holdings in Chambolle-Musigny, including some lovely village plots and vines in Les Charmes and Les Amoureuses. (not to mention Clos St. Denis). We recently had the chance to taste some ‘13s, ‘14s and as-yet-unreleased 2015s.

Our lesson? The Domaine is doing great work! The wines are fresh and pure with beautiful fruit and terroir-specific aromatics.

Their plot of Bourgogne Rouge is just across the RN from the heart of Chambolle-Musigny. It has seductive aromatics that, like all great baby-Chambolles, hint at the village’s classic perfume and elegance. But the soils are deeper and the wine is already a pleasure to drink, more fruit-focused than the village wine with charmingly rustic tannins and lovely transparency.

The Bourgogne Blanc is at the southern end of the appellation. It has that wonderful 2014 white burg balance of great fruit and fine, fresh structure. Burghound wrote, “there is good freshness to the delicious, round and saline-inflected flavors.”

These are delicious now but will improve with a little bottle age. We will drink some now but save a few to drink over the next few years, and to encourage you to do the same.

Musso

Piedmont is still, slowly, climbing its way into the ranks of great wine regions. It’s a fun moment. There are still plenty of discoveries to be made. This is especially true in Barbaresco, a DOC with a remarkable number of small producers who make fabulous wines that only intermittently make their way over to the U.S. Why bother with exporting when you can sell everything you make to local restaurants?

An example is Musso. Small and off-the-radar, Musso has only six hectares of vineyards in the DOC of Barbaresco. What they do have are well situated, as they lie entirely within the Crus of Rio Sordo and Pora. They have been bottling their own Barbarescos since the 1930s.

mussobottles

One of our trusted sources in Italy came across some older bottles from Musso and recommended them to us. Their arrival several months later felt a bit like Christmas: it is always a pleasure to open up those boxes to see what’s inside. In this case, it was several gorgeous-looking bottles of very mature Barbaresco.

Musso was entirely new to me. I inquired with friends who know more about this stuff than I do, and nobody knew these wines. Kerin O’Keefe had written them up in her great book on Barolo and Barbaresco, which was a good sign, but there was not much detail. There was only one way to learn: open some bottles.

We had a 1967, a 1979 and a 1982. The 79 and 82 were labeled “Rio Sordo” and the 1967 labeled “Riserva”. We stood them up in a cold cellar for several days, and then opened the bottles several hours before dinner. A quick taste suggested healthy bottles.

Kerin’s book says that Musso is a traditional producer who uses, for example, only large Slavonian casks to age the wines. These details are important, of course, but often not relevant when drinking older wines. Back in 1982 and 1979 only a tiny handful of producers in Piedmont — and possibly only Gaja in Barbaresco — were employing anything but large casks. In 1967 nobody was. I applaud Musso for maintaining this tradition, but that didn’t tell us much about the wines we would be drinking that night.

We started old, and poured the 1967. The bottle was in excellent shape, with a long ethereal feeling and even a touch of sappy fruit that belied its old age. Not a life-changer, but an elegant, harmonious wine and an awfully successful showing for a 50 year-old Barbaresco!

1979 is a shadow vintage. 1978 got all the hype but 1979s are almost as good and nobody ever paid attention. So it’s a vintage that’s undervalued in the market place and you should usually pick them up when you see them.  The Musso 1979 was another great bottle of wine. Rio Sordo is known to be a bit rustic and gamey, and of the three bottles, the 1979 showed that the most.

Last up was 1982, easily the most famous of the three vintages. This was higher volume and more vigorous wine. Not quite youthful, but certainly not old — like it’s picking up a few white hairs, but in a dignified sort of way. There was that gamey quality of the 79, but also that sappy fruit of the 67, merging together most splendidly.

Drinking these wines made me draw comparisons to other wine regions. When was the last time you drank great 30-50 year old Bordeaux from a producer you’ve never heard of?  Or even a Burgundy?  It almost never happens. Anyone making wine back then in those regions has been discovered and written about, over and over again. But Piedmont still has so many mysteries — both past and present — to reveal.

The Terroir of Oregon Pinot Noir

It’s no secret that Oregon, and specifically the Willamette Valley, is great terroir for growing Pinot Noir, but the reason behind that may come as a surprise.

Willamette Valley has been home to arguably the best domestically produced Pinot Noirs since growers started planting vines there in the late 1960s– most notably David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards. Stretching from Portland south to Eugene, the region covers roughly 150 miles and encompasses several recognized sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Area), from the renowned red-soiled Dundee Hills to McMinville.

A bit inland from the coast, the valley is bordered on the west by the Coastal mountain range and to the east by the Cascade mountain range, creating a continental climate not entirely unlike that of Burgundy– Pinot Noir’s home. Add to this a southern flowing ocean breeze created by the Van Duzer Corridor, bringing with it cool water temperatures from the Alaskan coast, and you begin to get the picture of why the region is so perfect for Pinot.

This paints a picture of the region as it is today– at least on the surface. Underneath is a mixture of volcanic soil and ocean sediment rich in siltstone and sandstone. If the idea of the valley being covered in volcanic lava comes as a surprise, this goes back hundreds of millions of years. About 200 million years ago, if you split Oregon on a diagonal from the southwest to the northeast, the half of the state falling in the northwest portion of that divide didn’t exist; nor did Washington. At where Oregon and Washington currently meet Idaho, there was a ring of incredibly active volcanoes, which resulted in lava flowing across the ocean floor, hardening, and eventually coming to the surface and forming a layer of basalt as that part of the continent was created thanks to the San Andreas fault.

As a rule, it’s common to find pockets of land that are either mostly volcanic soil or mostly maritime soil, and as, such, those can typically be categorized in the following ways: a site with volcanic soil, such as the Eola-Amity Hills, is more likely to be fruit forward and fresh, while a site with maritime soil, like the Dundee Hills, is more likely to be floral and spicy.

We have some shining examples of each, such as the Cristom, Willamette Valley Pinot Noir “Mt. Jefferson Cuvee”, 2013 (volcanic) and the Eyrie Vineyard, Pinot Noir “Original Vines” Dundee Hills, 2013.

Flatiron’s Rose FAQs: our simple guide to the best pink wines

flatiron rose wine

Rosé myths and facts

What is rosé?

“Rosé” is French for “pink,” or “pinkish”—so rosé just means pinkish wine.

Why all the hype about rosé lately?

Cause it’s delicious and people love stuff that tastes great! Seriously.

Also, there’s a reverse-snob appeal. For a long time most of the rosé we got in America was gross: industrial wine made by mixing cheap white wine with worse red wine (more on this mixing business below) and adding sugar. That created a real snobbery against rosé.

But that’s not how they make the rosés we love. They never made them that way in France, Provence (rosés spiritual home), and it’s not how they make them here anymore either.

So when you drink rosé you get to drink something super-tasty and show that you aren’t the kind of person who’s taste is controlled by out-of-date snobbery. Win-win!

So how do you make good pink wine?
You pick red grapes, good red grapes from good terroirs! Then you press them to extract their juice, which is white (Really!) and then separate the juice from the dark skins before the skins can turn the wine red.

Some people call this “direct press” rosé.

So you don’t mix red wine and white wine?
Not normally for good wines. There’s one big exception, though: pink sparkling wines, like Rosé Champagne.

In Champagne they’re allowed to break all kinds of rules, and they get to break this one too! So lots of Rosé Champagnes are made by mixing a tiny bit of red wine into a white sparkler.

rose wine

I like dry rosés that are really light pink.
Yep, we know. Here are the two tricks to making wine like that:

1. Separate the grape juice from the dark skins ASAP, before the skins can give the juice more than that touch of color.
2. Pick your grapes a little earlier, when they have more fresh acidity and less sugar.

So to make a darker Rosé you just let the grapes and the juice mix for longer?
Pretty much.

And to make a red wine you just let the skin and the juice mix till skins have colored the wine completely red and made it tannic?
Exactly!

Any other techniques I should know about?
Well, there’s one other trick winemakers use to make a little rosé as a by-product of their red wine.

Let’s say you’ve got a tank full of red grapes and their juice hasn’t gotten fully dark yet. You can bleed off a little bit of that still pink juice and ferment it separately, as its own rosé. Of course, you can’t do very much wine like this or you’ll end up with a gross, over-extracted red wine.

Rosé as a by-product—that doesn’t sound as good…
Well, it does get looked down on in some circles. It definitely has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest difference is that the grapes you pick to red wine are usually riper than the grapes you pick for Rosé, so the flavors can be less pink-friendly.

But we’ve definitely had good examples of saignée rosé, and there are plenty of great rosés that use just a little bit of saignée juice in their blend.

Interesting, What do you call this “bleeding” technique?
It’s rosé so we get all fancy and call it by the French word for bled: “saignée.”

Is there a fancy-pants French term for a rose made by blending red wine with white?
Actually, yes: “taché.”

What’s the point of darker rosés, anyway?
They’re also delicious!

Maybe not for drinking while you’re sitting out in the sun or by the water. But if you think of them as really light red wines that you can chill down and serve with food, you’ll get the picture.

Just imagine bbq chicken with a bit of spice on a hot summer night. You want something cool and refreshing, but your super-pale, very subtle rosé may get obliterated by the dish. But a darker rosé with a touch more fruit will stand up to meal without becoming weighty, like some big, old winter-time red.

How can I learn more?
Drink the stuff!

Honestly, the best way to learn about wine is to drink some great wines. Here are [eight] great rosés that, in addition to being great drinking, make for a fascinating exploration of the world of Rosé.

Classic stuff – here are two examples of the classic, light dry stuff, one from Provence and the other from California.

Bedrock Cellars, Ode to Lulu
The most famous rosé in the world is probably Bandol, from producers like Tempier. Bedrock’s rose is an homage to Tempier’s legendary first lady, Lulu.

It’s made direct press from super-old-vine grapes (Mourvedre and Grenache) and is light and fresh and aromatic and yet, somehow, has depth of soul.

Pomponette Rosé
Karina and Guillaume Lefevre cultivate about 30 hectare of organic vineyards in beautiful, sunny Provence. Their biodynamic rosé is a classic: lean, dry and mineral with citrus notes and just a hint of wild strawberry. It’s clean, crisp and very pale, a perfect wine for the season.

Some technical details:

• A blend is 60% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Vermentino, 15% Cinsault, 5% Mourvedre.
• The soils are clay and sandstone.

Darker rosés—Honest! Please don’t ignore the darker rosés: they are delicious and fascinating wines!

Muri Gries Lagrein
This is rosé made by monks in the Italian mountains near Austria. By monks! These guys know what they’re doing…

Some technical details:
• The organic vineyards are high up, nearly 900 feet above sea level
• Half the wine here is done direct press, but the other half is a saignée taken off the grapes after about 8 hours. Just eight hours and it gets that much color!

Chateau Simone Palette Rosé
This is one of the world’s greatest, off-the-beaten-path rosés. Palette is a tiny appellation in Provence, pretty much only occupied by the Rougier family’s little domaine. The wine is very different from its neighbors, Aix-en-Provence and Bandol.

Chateau Simone’s rosé is the darkest on this list, almost a light red. But it’s fresh and vibrant and delicious with all kinds of foods.

Some technical details:
• The 500-750 foot asl vineyards have old vines, limestone soils and are surrounded by a cool forest. This is a southern wine that preserves freshness!
• The grapes are 45% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault, 20% Syrah, Castet, Manosquin, Carignan, Muscat Noir & Blanc.
• Part of the wine was made direct press, but some of it was allowed to macerate for about eight days. No wonder it’s so dark!

The Bubbly Stuff. Here are some examples of absolutely incredible sparkling rosés made pink by blending a touch of red wine into white.

Raventos Rose de nit
This family domaine was behind the creation of the Spain’s “Cava” appellation. This is a gorgeous, refined, sparkler that is one of the best values in bubbly wine, year-in and year-out.

Some technical details:
• The farming is organic
• The white grapes (Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parrellada) get color from an addition of just 7% of mourvedre—incidentally, the grape behind Bandol and Ode to Lulu

Laherte frère Ultradition Rosé
Another family domaine making spectacular sparkling wines, this one from old-vine Pinot Meunier, with a gorgeous balance of fruit, complexity, structure, freshness and straight up joy.

Some technical details:
This wine combines a bunch of the techniques. It’s a blend of:

• straight-up white champagne (60%)
• direct press pink wine (30%) and
• actual red wine.

A Short History of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Once upon a time in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, there was a castle that the pope lived in. In the 14th century a castle was built on the hill over the village. This was during the Avignon Papacy when the Pope(s) lived in Avignon rather than Rome. Why? Because French King Philip IV finagled the election of a Frenchman, Clement V to the papacy.

avignonpapacy

This new pope was not too popular in Rome and moved to Avignon. The castle (now in ruins) was built for his successor Pope John XXII. The next seven Popes in Avignon did not live in the castle. Over the objections of the French cardinals, Pope Gregory XI had just moved the papacy back to Rome but died shortly after his return. After the Great Schism of the Catholic church in 1378 the antipope Clement VII moved back to the castle for his own protection. This was the beginning of a four decade period when there were two Popes – one in Rome and one in Avignon, which was very confusing for many Catholics – especially in France and Italy! Although Avignon belonged to the papacy – it was in France, and the influence of the King of France, that supplanted the pope’s influence. In the eyes of many the Avignon papacy was blamed for all kinds of misfortune and bad luck – the War of Religion, the Black Death, crop failures and subsequent mass starvation, devil worship, etc…

At the time of the French Revolution, remains of the castle were sold off to multiple buyers and most of the stone was used for building in the village. Only the tower of the Donjon was preserved.  During the Second World War the Donjon was used as an observation post by the occupying German army.  When the Germans were in retreat they tried to destroy the Donjon with dynamite and almost succeeded, though part of the south tower exists to this day.

avignonpapalpalace

95% of the wine produced in Chateauneuf-du-Pape is red.  It can include 13 different grape varieties but is mostly grenache.  I enjoy this wine, especially when it has about 10 – 20 years of bottle age.  They are not “hip” wines; they are high in alcohol and low in acid, and I think they are undeniably delicious wines to enjoy.  We have a great collection of mature, ready to drink and enjoy wines currently in stock. These are decadent and hedonistic wines, maybe just as decadent and hedonistic as the antipope!

Some suggestions from our collection:

Mayard, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Clos du Calvaire”, 2013 – $34.99
Clos du Mont Olivet, Chateauneuf du Pape “Petit Mont”, 2014 – $34.99
Clos du Mont Olivet, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2014 – $34.99
Domaine Bois de Boursan,Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, 2013  – $39.99
Domaine Bois de Boursan, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2013 – $41.99
Domaine de Beaurenard, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Boisrenard”, 1998 – $64.99
Les Cailloux (Lucien et Andre Brunel), Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee Centenaire”, 2000  – $89.99
Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee de mon Aieul”, 2003 – $89.99
Domaine du Pegau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reservee, 1998 – $94.99 
Domaine de la Janasse, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Vieilles Vignes”, 2003 – $109.99
Bois De Boursan Dom, Chateauneuf Du Pape Cuvee des Felix  2010 – $129.99
Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Vieilles Vignes”, 2000 – $149.99
Domaine Pierre Usseglio & Fils, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Reserve des Deux Freres”, 2001 – $169.99
Le Clos du Caillou, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Reserve le Clos du Caillou”, 2000 – $189.99
Les Cailloux (Lucien et Andre Brunel), Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee Centenaire”, 1998 – $189.99
Domaine de la Mordoree, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee de la Reine des Bois”, 2001 – $219.99
Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Reserve, 2009  – $219.99
Domaine de la Mordoree, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee de la Reine des Bois”, 1.5L, 2000 $229.99
Clos des Papes, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 1.5L, 2011 – $249.99
Chateau Rayas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2006 – $379
Domaine de la Mordoree, Chateauneuf-du-Pape “Cuvee de la Reine des Bois”, 1.5L, 2001 – $489.99

Brezza’s Barolo

brezzabottles
“Brezza remains one of Piedmont’s great undiscovered gems. The estate’s Barolos, made in a rigorously traditional style, show tons of vintage and vineyard character in the classic, mid-weight style that is the signature of traditionally- made Barolos.” –Antonio Galloni

If Brezza remains undiscovered, it’s in part because until the middle part of the last decade the wines did not live up to their potential. But then the current owner, Enzo, took over and guess where he learned to make wine? Across the street with his cousin Bartolo Mascarello! 

Located in the center of the village of Barolo, since their founding in 1885 Brezza has owned and operated their winery and vineyards for four generations. The vineyards are now certified organic, but they haven’t stopped there: in many ways, their farming practices all center around the general improvement of the vineyards year after year.

All grapes are hand-harvested from up to seventy-year-old vines, they make their own composts, and they even use lightweight tractors to reduce the use of fossil fuels and avoid soil compaction. The wines are fermented naturally in large-format Slavonian oak, and are neither filtered nor refined.

With bright, fresh fruit and firm, smooth tannins, one of the best things about the 2013 vintage in Barolo is that you can drink them now or store them for awhile. The growing season in 2013 was a bit cooler, which resulted in very elegant and refined, incredibly well-balanced wines. Brezza’s, which comprises fruit from Monforte, Novello, and Barolo proper, is no exception.

Winemakers themselves have compared the 2013 vintage to recent greats such as 2010, 2008, and 1999. The 2013s from Brezza are no exception, and we’re happy to carry them.

Brezza, Barolo, 2013 –  $41.99

Merkelbach’s (Nearly) Timeless Wines

merkelbach
Every time you open a good bottle of wine it’s an opportunity to travel, usually to that special place where the grapes were grown and the wine was made.

But sometimes the wine will take you on a trip through time. There are a few estates that haven’t changed for decades. But not many—López de Heredia comes to mind, and Lafarge in Volnay. When you taste their wines, you experience something ancient and beautiful. Time travel.

In the case of the Merkelbachs, that time is the 1950s. Nothing has changed since then: for all those decades the same two brothers have made wines from the same terroirs, over and over again, using the same ancient methods on their beautiful, old, ungrafted vines. They started young and are both around 80 years old today.

Like López and Lafarge, the wines are extraordinarily good. They have to be for the project to survive so long, working this way.

We say nearly timeless because, of course, the wines also reflect their vintage. And where 2015 is concerned, we don’t have to tell you how good a thing that is.

We are so happy to have two of their Auslesen, both excellent, and quite different one from another:

Merkelbach, Riesling Auslese Ürziger Würzgarten “Urglück”#9 , 2015
 This is an intensely beautiful example of fruity Mosel Riesling, oozing with passionfruit and peach, but also a dizzying array of spices, smoke, and fresh herbs. Really long, elegant finish that is simply astounding for the price.

Merkelbach, Riesling Auslese Kinheimer Rosenberg #5, 2015
While the Urgluck puts its fruity foot forward, the Rosenberg is all about rocks and minerals, with a good dollop of flowers and peaches balancing things out. Again, the price is pretty crazy considering the obvious quality of this wine.

Sauvignon Blanc: An FAQ

sauvignonb

What is Sauvignon Blanc?

It is a white wine grape variety. It’s “home” is in the Loire Valley, but it is one of the French grapes, like Chardonnay, that has become a widely planted and widely consumed “international” grape variety. As many consumers decided that Chardonnay was too “oaky and buttery”, many of them moved to Sauvignon Blanc, which is typically crisper, more fruit forward, and more herbaceous.

Where is it grown?

The most famous Sauvignon Blancs continue to be produced in the Loire Valley, mostly in the AOCs of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. It also make popular varietal wines in California, South Africa, Chile and New Zealand, and to a lesser extent Austria, Northern Italy and Australia.

There are other, lesser-known pockets of Sauvignon Blanc production in various corners of the world.  Burgundy has its own Sauvignon Blanc AOC in Saint Bris. The Germans (especially in the Pfalz) and the Spanish (especially in Rueda) have been known to produce examples.

The other very important wine region for Sauvignon Blanc is Bordeaux and in fact many think that it’s the grape’s original home (although more recent DNA and etymological evidence points us back towards the Loire Valley). Sauvignon Blanc occasionally makes a varietal wine in Bordeaux, but is most often blended with other varieties, usually Semillon. This includes the famous sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, which are just about the only sweet wines made from Sauvignon Blanc anywhere in the world (though we have come across other examples…) Similar blends (dry) are also produced in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.

Is it related to Cabernet Sauvignon?

Yes! The name is no coincidence. Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross (which occurred naturally) between Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc. That’s quite a family!

You can detect the family resemblance in the natural herbaceousness of all three grapes. All have a high level of pyrazines (short for methoxypyrazines), which is a molecule that you also find in bell peppers, and gives these wines their “green” notes. All the high-pyrazine grapes originate in and around Bordeaux (in addition to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, you have high levels in Malbec, Carmenere and Merlot; Sauvignon Blanc is the only white wine in this group!).

What is Fume Blanc?

It’s a marketing name for Sauvignon Blanc that someone came up with in California back in the 1970s. It was popularized by Robert Mondavi’s varietal bottling.

What are the greatest examples of Sauvignon Blanc?

Although the Southern Hemisphere produces plenty of cheerful, fruity examples of Sauvignon Blanc, the world’s greatest examples still come from the grapes’ original homes in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. The greatest Sauvignon Blancs made today include Dagueneau’s Pouilly Fumes, and the top Sancerres from the likes of Vatan, Cotat, Boulay, Labaille or Vacheron. But my own personal favorite Sauvignon Blanc is actually from Bordeaux: The Pavillon Blanc du Chateaux Margaux. It’s a very unique wine, as the vast majority of the 100% Sauvignon Blancs from Bordeaux are straightforward and inexpensive, and almost all the luxury whites are blended with Semillon and often other grapes. But Chateau Margaux has been doing it this way for hundreds of years, and the wine they make with Sauvignon Blanc is extremely special (and very expensive)!

California is also trying with top examples from the likes of Araujo, Larkmead, Peter Michael and Spottswoode. I have not yet come across examples that have convinced me that these are worth the high prices, but I confess that I have not tried very many.

What about more affordable Sauvignon Blanc?

Start with Sancerre!  It is really incredible how many artisanal Sancerres can be had here in the U.S. for under $30. Don’t confuse these wines with the industrial Sancerre that you find in so many bistros, both here and in France. Try the Cuvee Chavignol from Bailly-Reverdy ($23.99) or the Lucien Crochet Croix du Roy ($27.99).

You should also try a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($29.99), the wine that put New Zealand on the map. This is full-on Southern Hemisphere Sauvignon Blanc, with an emphasis on berry fruit rather than the lime and mineral flavors more common in the Loire. And then for a slightly different take, try Dipoli’s Sauvignon Blanc ($29.99) from Northern Italy, where there is actually a small but important tradition of making fairly “serious” Sauvignon Blanc with aging potential. As of this writing, the 2012 is the current release, and it is drinking great!