By: Jack Wells
To many people, if you say you want a white wine, they think Chardonnay. And while the Chardonnays of many vineyards are delightful, light and tart presenting a rich body and smart nose, many others are awkward, sour or overpowering. These latter ones, and the somewhat unpredictability of the varietal has caused me to search for an alternative, a more reliable alternative, to the ubiquitous Chardonnay. I should say here that most California Chardonnays, and some South African ones, are absolutely wonderful, well-crafted wines with nuanced and multi-layered flavors that entertain without overpowering. However, there are those others....
So I began my quest for the Chardonnay alternative. I learned to enjoy Pinot Grigio, which offers a lovely contrast to the Chardonnay grape and intend to write another article extolling its virtues, which are many. The German whites, Riesling, Liebfraumilch, etc. tend to be too sweet for my tastes, though they are very popular and many people find them quite charming. Then a friend encouraged me to try a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I had tried this varietal before, but it was European in origin, and consequently expensive and frankly, I didn't find it terribly remarkable. But, this friend of mine is rarely wrong in matters of wine-loving interest, so I trudged to the local wine store and positioned myself in front of the New Zealand section. After a few moments, my eye was caught by a label that I felt was light-hearted and interesting enough to merit my attention. The bottle was not terribly expensive at $9, so I snatched it up and dashed home.
It was a summer evening, and that night's dinner was a light pasta salad with vegetables, feta, black olives and fresh tomatoes in an olive oil and garlic dressing. I had chilled the wine thoroughly, though not overly, and popped the cork expectantly. Pouring myself a small portion, I sampled the nose of the wine and was greeted by the most amazing and almost overpowering freshness of citrus. In fact, not just any citrus, but strong grapefruit. The smell was so specific and strong that I read the entire label of the wine again to make sure that this was indeed grape wine of the variety Sauvignon Blanc with no additives or flavors beyond just the wine. I was startled at the strength of the grapefruit scent and had to know if it extended to the flavor of the wine.
I took a small bit in my mouth and breathed in over it. And while the flavor was redolent with grapefruit, it was not overpoweringly so. In fact, this was an absolutely charming wine with power, nuance, and grace. The citrus quality provided a freshness that I can barely describe except to say that I now enjoy this wine regularly as one of my absolute favorites.
Since then, I have sampled many vineyards' Sauvignon Blanc offerings, and found them to have varying degrees of success. Frankly, my experience has been that Chile produces drinkable, but inferior bottles of this variety, while Australia and New Zealand seem to have mastered the graces of this delightful grape. South Africa, Europe and California are uneven in their efforts and can range from the masterful to the amateur without any noticeable indication by price or availability.
Frankly, this variety has become my very favorite and I seek it in all its forms whenever I can. I encourage you to try it with a nice, light chicken dinner or avocado salad.