Sauvignon blanc is a sleek white wine that is gaining in popularity in the Pacific Northwest, particularly because of its ability to pair with our region’s seafood, as well as other cuisine inspired by Asian and Hispanic heritage.
While native to France — and most famous in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley — in recent years, it’s gained considerable fame in New Zealand, where the grape produces wines that exhibit fascinating and distinctive flavors and aromas.
It’s also renowned in California’s Napa Valley, where Robert Mondavi named it fume blanc, a moniker that persists today. For years, Rob Griffin of Barnard Griffin in Richland paid homage to Mondavi by using “fume blanc” on the label until recently changing the name to sauvignon blanc.
The grape was introduced to Washington state in the 1940s and has grown in popularity. Last fall, Washington winemakers harvested 8,000 tons of sauvignon blanc, double what was brought in 2002, making it the state’s No. 4 white grape, after riesling, chardonnay and pinot gris.
Here are five examples of sauvignon blanc we’ve tasted recently. Ask for then at your favorite wine merchant, or contact the wineries directly.
Airfield Estates Winery 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Yakima Valley, $15: Marcus Miller instructs the crew at this fourth-generation farm near Prosser to harvest his sauvignon blanc in the early morning hours in order to preserve the natural acidity. Last year, that happened on Sept. 7, which is closer to the historical norm than previous hot vintages. As a result, there’s a bone-dry presentation of subtle notes of lemon, grapefruit and gooseberry, with a hint of a spicy kick of white pepper on the finish. Suggested pairings include calamari with garlic and peas, gazpacho, grilled vegetable pasta with cumin or a cheese plate featuring bucheron and sharp cheddar. This won a double gold medal at the sixth annual Cascadia International Wine Competition.
Henry Earl Estates 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Red Mountain, $25: Henry Shaw’s son and Earl West’s daughter farm much of the southeast and northwest corners of Red Mountain — arguably Washington state’s most prized vineyard land — and sauvignon blanc is the only white grape Dick and Wendy Shaw grow at Quintessence Vineyards. This release represents eight barrels of juice the Shaws kept for themselves, and it offers grassy and tropical aromas that include a slice of gooseberry pie. A touch of the barrel fermentation is revealed on the palate, a luscious entry that carries hints of lemongrass, mint, orange zest and baked bread. Great acidity comes with a touch of brininess in the finish.
Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyard 2016 Estate Cuvée Sauvignon Blanc, Umpqua Valley, $23: This blend of Romancing Rock and Prayer Rock recorded unanimous double gold medals at two major Northwest competitions, and there’s no denying that Stephen Reustle is a wizard with cool-climate whites in Southern Oregon. Mouthwatering aromas of pineapple, Meyer lemon and Key lime pie lead to brisk and yet balanced flavors of Granny Smith apple and lime that are capped by yellow grapefruit and more pineapple. It’s bone dry.
Canoe Ridge Vineyard 2017 The Expedition Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $15: For the third consecutive vintage, Napa, California, native Bill Murray pulled sauvignon blanc from beyond Canoe Ridge Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills. Its rather fascinating rich mouthfeel slowly emerges, bringing a slice of Key lime pie and sip of Orange Julius that’s super delicious and long.
Waterbrook Winery 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $12: Oasis Vineyard in the Yakima Valley remains a core component for John Freeman’s sauvignon blanc at Waterbrook. He also dials down the residual sugar to less than 2 grams per liter. As a result, it is lemony crisp as it transitions from starfruit and spearmint to gala apple and Asian pear in the finish.
Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, an award-winning media company. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.