California’s Best Bargain?

A Sauvignon Blanc that makes the most of mediocrity.

On the topic of American Sauvignon Blanc, an international wine expert recently listed California, Washington, and Texas as the states making noteworthy wines from this classic French grape. Texas? Alas, it’s true: Our populous rival has a winemaking tradition that began with 17th-century Franciscan monks planting Mission grapes, and now boasts a number of esteemed labels.

But since Texas wines are mainly consumed by Texans, and Sauvignon Blanc is arguably the best bargain grape in California, we’ve opted for offerings from Sonoma and Lake counties as well as a coastal California blend. All are around $10 but could pass for pricier.

Our Token Winemaker had high praise for the 2005 Simi Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County ($9.99), finding its aroma tropical, minty, and full of great fruit, with a taste that perfectly encompassed all the varietal’s positive expressions — especially its signature zestiness. The Simi’s only obvious flaw was its unusually full body, but to me this just makes it a great “cocktail” wine, best served ice-cold at a summer party.

My favorite comes from the godfather of California Sauvignon Blanc, Robert Mondavi. It was Mondavi who in the 1960s began experimenting with the varietal, which he renamed Fumé Blanc in a nod to the Blanc Fumé of France’s Loire Valley. We tried the 2005 Robert Mondavi Private Selection California Sauvignon Blanc ($9.99). Light, crisp, and citrusy, this had a faintly astringent taste and a dry finish that quickly disappeared. We agreed that it could stand alone or pair well with food, and our Token Winemaker generously proclaimed it “the cleanest, freshest mediocre Sauvignon Blanc I can remember.”

In the ho-hum category was the 2005 Guenoc Lake County Sauvignon Blanc ($9.99). Nothing wrong with its muted oaky aroma and light, slightly bitter taste, but it was something of a disappointment from a growing region known as an excellent source for Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

Hoping for a hat trick, we briefly despaired at the Guenoc’s mediocrity — and then remembered that sitting in the fridge was a half-drunk bottle of 2005 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa’s Golden Kaan winery ($8.99). The comparison wasn’t exactly fair, since we had blind-tasted the others and knew exactly what we were drinking as we sipped the Golden Kaan. But it was still our favorite, with an intense aroma of fruit and green vegetables, refreshing flavor, and long, true finish.

Hey, at least it’s not from Texas.


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