In the world of wine, sauvignon blanc is a noble grape, especially in its native France.
In the Pacific Northwest, it is little more than an afterthought, which is too bad because the grape can produce deliciously crisp white wines that pair beautifully with regional dishes, especially seafood.
Sauvignon blanc is thought to have originated in either the Loire Valley or Bordeaux. Today, it is well known in both regions. It is often blended with semillon for dry white bordeaux as well as sauternes, the famous — and expensive — dessert wine. The grape is equally famous for being a parent (with cabernet franc) of the king of wine grapes: cabernet sauvignon.
More than a century ago, the grape was introduced to California, where it suffered a poor reputation. In 1968, Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi renamed it “fumé blanc” purely for marketing purposes — and it took off in popularity.
In recent years, sauvignon blanc has become most famous in New Zealand, where it produces a dry, crisp and wildly flavorful white wine.
Alas, in Washington, sauvignon blanc has never been more than a minor player. Last year, about 4,300 tons were harvested, making it a distant No. 4 white wine grape behind riesling, chardonnay and pinot gris. Some also is grown in Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.
It’s too bad that sauvignon blanc has yet to catch on in the Northwest because it can produce a food wine that is superior to chardonnay and pinot gris, especially when paired with salmon, halibut, oysters, scallops, chowders and grilled or steamed vegetables.
Despite its rarity, finding a Northwest sauvignon blanc should not be too difficult, as some of the region’s largest producers (Covey Run, Columbia Crest and Chateau Ste. Michelle included) make the wine.
Here are some sauvignon blancs we have tasted recently. Ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.
Claar Cellars 2011 White Bluffs Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $15: The Claar family harvested this lot on Sept. 28, and it hints at grilled peach, dried apple and pear with hints of honeycomb and toast. There’s a bit of weight to the drink and frothy acidity that makes it virtually bone-dry.
Covey Run Winery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $9: Aromas feature gooseberry pie, Meyer lemon, lime, peach, river rock and a whiff of tom cat. There’s delicious acidity to the drink that brings Key lime, lychee, more wet stone and some grapefruit tartness. Those who enjoy dry riesling will also appreciate this.
Indian Creek Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Snake River Valley, $12: The nose is filled with pleasing lemon-lime aromas, backed by tropical notes of lychee and grapefruit. That grapefruit sets you up for the flavors, which include delicious fresh lime juice and a bit of slate. It’s nicely balanced and a bright expression of the variety that includes some citrus pith bitterness ideal for summertime fare such as ceviche.
Cedergreen Cellars 2010 Spring Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $14: This reveals aromas of green apple, vanilla and spice. What follows are flavors of papaya, apple and a touch of lemon on the crisp and lingering finish.
Bateaux Cellars 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley, $10: This wine would pair well with seafood, featuring aromas and flavors of gooseberry, Asian pear and quince.
Spangler Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Southern Oregon, $18: Aromas offer gooseberry, honeydew melon, pineapple grassiness, slate and a whiff of smoke. The palate comes loaded with star fruit, lime juice and yellow grapefruit pith, and its assertive acidity lingers. Enjoy with white asparagus soup or pumpkin bisque.
Kestrel Vintners 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $17: This opens with elegant aromas of sweet herbs, fresh hay, lemons and limes, followed by bright flavors of citrus and fresh herbs, all backed with lovely acidity.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.