Sauvignon Blanc is produced in so many styles in so many places, from the mineral-driven wines of France’s Loire Valley, to the racy iterations of New Zealand and Chile, to the floral elegance of those from Bordeaux, to name just a few.
The grape is exceeded only by Chardonnay as the most planted “international” white variety worldwide. Although its familiarity and popularity are dwarfed by King Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc is more versatile and food-friendly. It often provides better value, too, especially in the under-$20 category.
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And it makes for some intriguing outliers, like the unique and always impressive Sauvignon from Napa’s iconic Grgich Hills Estate. Grgich calls its wine Fumé Blanc. The name was invented by Robert Mondavi in the 1960s, borrowing from the famed Pouilly Fumé appellation in the Loire, to counter the negative reputation the grape had in California back then. Though anachronistic, it has stuck with a few wineries and has come to signify California Sauvignon that is aged in oak.
Grgich Hills is among them, and while Sauvignon purists may turn up their noses at the thought of oak aging, Grgich does so with delicious results, as a sample bottle of its 2016 Fumé Blanc reminded me.
The $31 wine is made from grapes farmed organically and biodynamically (as are all of Grgich’s wines). This is California Sauvignon of unusual complexity, which starts off with enticing and refreshing aromas of pink grapefruit and flowers.
Tasting it is like biting into a ripe white peach, with tropical fruit notes and a hint of apricot preserves. Subtle vanilla and some exotic spice notes are the result of well-integrated oak from fermentation in large and small French oak casks. Aging on the lees (the solids of the grapes) gives the wine a luscious mouthfeel and an overall opulent character, balanced by lively acidity.
The 2016 is just making its way into stores now and should be widely available, with plenty of the 2015 vintage still around in the meantime. For an impressively different take on Sauvignon Blanc — pure California, pure Grgich Hills — this one is worth seeking out.