In California, Sauvignon Blanc (aka Fume Blanc) has been undergoing a transformation. For years, many winemakers had been treating this varietal like Chardonnay, overusing malolactic fermentation and over-aging in new oak. The resulting wines were dull and uninspiring. Sauvignon Blanc may not be profound, but it should be fun. The best have bright acidity for balance, a long finish and flavors such as lime, lemon and other citrus as well as a mild grassiness often combined with melon, fig, peach and occasional mineral notes.
The most recent vintages of California Sauvignon Blanc are much improved over previous efforts. Changes in vineyard management and less use of new oak have produced wines with more character and flavor. Most are value-priced and when lightly chilled work well with grilled fish and chicken, Asian-flavored dishes and summer salads. The 2005 vintage is just starting to appear in stores and many quality 2004s remain available. Here are some suggestions.
Winemaker Mike Grgich clearly understands Sauvignon Blanc. His excellent Grgich Hills Fume Blanc 2004 ($24) is medium-bodied and slightly spicy, with grassy aromas and citrus, fig and passion fruit flavors in perfect balance and a great finish. Another high-quality offering in the same price range is the herb- and fig-scented Duckhorn Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($25), which has crisp melon flavors and a long finish.
Made from the Sauvignon Musque clone, the terrific Flora Springs Soliloquy 2004 ($18) has bright lemon and grapefruit favors and a refreshing finish. The Murphy-Goode Fume Blanc Alexander Valley Reserve 2002 ($17) is another first-rate effort from winemaker David Ready Jr., with its vanilla, pear, peach and fig flavors. I look forward to the release of their more recent vintages.
A great value is the very good Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2004 ($13), which has lime, fig and grapefruit flavors with a bit of peach at the end. The Chateau St. Jean Fume Blanc 2004 ($13) is another value-priced offering; it has lemon and vanilla aromas along with lime and melon flavors. Made by the experienced hand of winemaker Ed Killian, Chateau Souvrain Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($14) is reminiscent of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It has a notable grassiness along with lemon and floral notes. Aged 100 percent in stainless tanks, the Guenoc Lake County Sauvignon Blanc 2005 ($12) has tropical fruit and citrus notes with nice acidity and finish. The Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($18), which has floral aromas, is well-balanced with bracing acidity and passion fruit and lemon flavors.
The recently released Mondavi Fume Blanc 2004 ($18) is made from 91 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 9 percent Semillon. Harvested two weeks earlier than usual, it has rich melon and pineapple flavors and a fuller body and finish. Although known for Zinfandels, do not ignore the medium-bodied Rancho Zabaco Russian River Valley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2004 ($18), which combines grassy and grapefruit flavors and a bit of minerality.