As the weather warms, it's natural to think about picnics and sitting on the patio sipping a refreshing white wine. Sauvignon Blanc is an ideal, if often underappreciated, choice for such moments. The grape is one of the parents (with cabernet franc) of the great red grape cabernet sauvignon. It is responsible for the Loire Valley wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume and, with semillon, the white Bordeaux of Graves and Sauternes.
In California, winemakers are doing a better job these days of matching clones and vineyard sites, and balancing the use of oak and stainless steel in fermentation and aging to emphasize the grape's zesty green and citrus fruits and distinctive herbs. These traits enable Sauvignon Blanc to pair nicely with the lighter foods of spring and summer.
Everyday patio sippers
As with other wines, there are Sauvignon Blancs that are lighter and recommended for their straightforward pleasure.
- 2012 Souverain North Coast ($13). Tangy citrus and tropical fruit accented with grassy, herbal notes and firm acidity given extra texture with a touch of oak and lees aging.
- 2013 Decoy Sonoma County ($20). Pungent herbal notes precede sweet green fruits and a firm style that finishes with a touch of bitterness.
- 2012 Sticky Beak Russian River Valley ($17). Nice grassy and grapefruit entry complemented with a touch of richness from a judicious use of oak fermentation.
- 2013 Pedroncelli Dry Creek Valley East Side Vineyards ($13). Fermented 100 percent in stainless steel, juicy lemon, lime and orange drink softly, with fresh herb notes and a touch of hay.
- 2012 Lange Twins Lodi Musque Clone ($13). Brisk gooseberry, citrus and tropical fruits join woodsy herbs.
Best with food
Sauvignon Blanc can be a fun and serious drink. These wines show more complexity and are best enjoyed as accompaniments to food.
- 2012 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley "Fume Blanc" ($30). Always a favorite from this storied producer, this wine opens with enticing citrus and tropical fruit that balance assertive herbaceous qualities. It enters with bracing acidity (though shows a certain richness), giving a mouth-watering, juicy impact that makes for enjoyable drinking now while suggesting it can satisfy for a few years.
- 2012 Alta Maria Vineyards Santa Barbara County ($18). Fresh herbs with lively grapefruit, lemon and orange citrus qualities are buttressed with juicy acidity.
- 2012 Clos du Val Napa Valley ($24). This stainless steel wine offers bright acidity and very ripe lemon citrus and peach, with green herb notes, finishing brisk but surprisingly round and viscous.
Matanzas Creek's exploration of Sauvignon Blanc
With the release of its 2012 portfolio, Matanzas Creek looks to cement a place as one of the top Sauvignon Blanc producers. These wines all share a winemaking approach that apportions fermentation and aging in stainless steel and neutral, large oak barrels.
- 2012 Sonoma County ($21). Quite fragrant and flavorful, its range of grapefruit and other citrus, hints of melon, fig and spicy herb are delivered with a delightful texture. A touch of semillon adds complexity.
- 2012 Bennett Valley ($32). Wonderfully expressive with a broad range of citrus, melon and tropical fruits, plus melon and lemongrass, this is intense. It will drink well for several years.
- 2012 Helena Bench Knight's Valley ($40). This one is really strong on the herbal, green and spicy qualities of the grape. You are likely to find an assortment of citrus and tropical fruits but also mineral, stone and smoke, all wrapped in a tangy yet rich finish.