Sauvignon Blanc

Another huge hiatus! Time to make up for it with a dazzling series. Once in a while, especially when playing catch-up on a wine blog, you want a wine that just rocks. No snobby nonsense; no sniff, swirl, spit. Just a wine that breaches all boundaries, pushing the limits of what you thought possible in terms of terroir. I found such a wine recently, and it represents a defiant vision of winemaking I find quite attractive.

This wine is the 2008 Stronghold Vineyards “Tazi,” a white blend made in Cornville, Arizona by no less a personage than Maynard James Keenan, frontman for the alternative/prog metal legend Tool. If anything exemplifies the approach used for producing this wine, it is the name: “Tazi” is a name used for the Persian greyhound, one of the earliest breeds to diverge from wolves. The vineyard site, located at the eastern end of Sulfur Springs Valley, is 80 acres, of which 70 are currently cultivated. If you want to learn about this project, which Keenan undertook with winemaker Eric Glomski, see the documentary, Blood Into Wine, which can be obtained at their website Who could expect that Arizona would produce wines of any note, let alone with such bold fruit character and aromatics as this one?

What surprised me about “Tazi” is its composition: it is a blend of 52% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Chardonnay, 19% Riesling and 8% Malvasia Bianca – Sauvignon Blanc contributes freshness and acidity, as well as some herbal qualities; Chardonnay contributes body and texture; Riesling contributes finesse and some fruit to the finish, while Malvasia contributes aromas and texture. Combined in this blend, they present a wine that is floral and fruit-driven on the nose, focused on peach, tangerine, and honeysuckle notes. It has a nicely balanced mouthfeel, medium-bodied and supple, except a little hot from the 13.7% alcohol. Nice crisp medium finish, but again, a bit hot for my taste. Try this fine example of unorthodox winemaking for only $18.

How long has it been since I tasted a South African Sauvignon Blanc, or any wine from this country, that caught my fancy? Too long. That it happened, and at a random tasting in Chelsea, was more than cause enough for a purchase and this subsequent post. Sauvignon Blanc, by the way, is one of my favorite white varietals. Among the other “noble” grapes, Riesling shows itself through transparency and grace, and Chardonnay makes you reel with its sensuality and layered opulence; Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, is the crisp, snappy, kissed-by-chlorophyll grape that hints at scents of growing things. I consider it my go-to white wine for any occasion where I’m not sure what I want.

The maker of this wine, Buitenverwachting, is based in Constantia, a founding estate near Cape Town at the very tip of South Africa. Established in 1796, this farm has been producing wine since the mid-1800’s. Buitenverwachting is Afrikaans for ‘beyond expectation,” which certainly applies to the wine itself. Through changing fortunes, the farm remained intact, although decades passed where no wine was produced at all – until the Mueller family restored the vineyards in 1980, and started producing wines of unique aromatic quality and international acclaim (or so it is said; the one I tried was tasty at least). Cape Town being a coastal region, the climate is moderated nicely by cooling sea breezes. The vines are situated on sloping fields of deep granite soils, allowing them to take root and get to business. Speaking of which, this is apparently the choice wine for business and first class seats on several international airlines!

On to the wine itself: our 2008 Buitenverwachting “Beyond” Sauvignon Blanc is a serious value, crackling with individualistic style. A pale green-gold in the glass, the nose is loaded with aromas of lemon and lime zest, lavender, pine sap, and gooseberries, backed by pronounced herbal notes (think spearmint and sage). More citrus fruit and herbal elements, green pepper and dusty spice, complement a snappy mouthfeel, with lively acidity tingling against a touch of residual sugar. A few years have given it a honeyed note as well. Firm finish, not quite tart; right up my alley. Pair with shellfish prepared just about any way you like, or lightly herbed sautéed whitefish. $10.

I have not updated this in some time. Too long. Today’s posting: a Loire beauty, the 2008 Caves des Perrières Pouilly-Fumé.

Beautiful pale straw in the glass, good clarity, and a nose rich in stony fruit – citrus: lemon zest, grapefruit. Highly mineral, gloriously mineral, like drinking water poured over cold mica. Full of that Loire “something.” Mixed soil, chalk/limestone brightness and mouthwatering acidity, and impeccable balance to the citrus fruit.

Drink now. $12.

Shellfish? Oysters on the halfshell, scallops, or maybe with herb-encrusted basa in a white wine sauce.

Sauvignon Blanc is my choice summer beverage: bright acidity, fresh and crisp, with delicious citrus and herbaceous notes, it is a picnic wine with the backbone to stand up to various types of shellfish, while also able to stand on its own. The Geyser Peak winery, founded in 1880 in the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, is one of California’s oldest wineries. Here the emphasis is on ecologically responsible wine production: they use a significant portion of recycled glass for their bottles, compost by-products of their harvests, and are certified by the Fish Friendly Farming organization in recognition of their practices for waste water redistribution.

Wine and vinicultural practice go hand in hand: Geyser Peak’s techniques are green, and the wine matches this in its essence. The 2007 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc is a beautiful straw color in the glass, showing a nose of pungent grass, lime and lemon zest, and notes of guava. Glorious, lip-smacking acidity balances the forward juiciness of the fruit on the palate, including green apple, tangerine, and a slight tinge of other tropical fruits. It also has a nice long finish for a wine at this price point. $9.

The 2005 Hubert Veneau Pouilly Fumé, a straight-up Sauvignon Blanc from this appellation east of Sancerre in the Loire Valley, has great intensity and structure, with strong notes of lemon and grapefruit, and a strangely sweet herbaceous backing. Dry and medium-bodied. There were some hints of peach towards the end. Unbelievable finish! The limestone soil in this region shows well. Absolutely ready to drink now, and it’s a steal at around $20 a bottle. Pairs with oysters or any other shellfish, many types of sushi, and tangy goat cheeses.

The 2005 Chateau Bonnet Blanc, a white Bordeaux from the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation, is comprised of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Muscadelle. At first, the nose wasn’t expressive, but as the wine opened up I was increasingly impressed with its distinct citrus overtones, focused on lemon and grapefruit. Light-bodied, good balance of sweetness and acidity, and the flavors play well together. Soft mouthfeel thanks to the Muscadelle, with some good lemon fruitiness and a quick tingling finish. At around $12 a bottle, this is a surefire keeper to watch in future vintages.