Although Chardonnay is the signature white wine of California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Sauvignon Blanc deserves more attention than it gets, especially among those looking for crisper wines that can be both opulent and refreshing.
At the higher end, many Napa and Sonoma wineries use at least some oak in the fermentation and aging of their Sauvignons, unlike most producers in the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, or New Zealand, where stainless-steel aging is pretty much the rule.
I used to be against the use of oak in Sauvignon, believing that I was some kind of purist when it came to the grape and that California Sauvignon Blanc that spent time in barrels was Sauvignon masquerading as Chardonnay. But in wine, as in many other things, tastes and sensibilities evolve.
Now I believe that Napa and Sonoma Sauvignons, which are grown in warmer conditions than their counterparts, benefit from at least some oak exposure, which gives them a round and refined quality and balances the herbal and floral character of Sauvignon.
A superb example of this style is the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa’s Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery. This $42 wine is a blend of Sauvignon grapes from Spottswoode and five other vineyard sources in Napa and Sonoma. As for the fermentation, 39 percent was in stainless steel, 53 percent in French oak barrels, and 8 percent in concrete tanks.
As I wrote in my notes, “subtlety is the name of the game here.” The oak accents the wine rather than defining it, framing delicious fruit notes of white grapefruit, green apple, and white peach. The herbal and floral notes are muted. With alcohol at 14.3 percent, it’s a slightly bigger wine than many Sauvignons, but with its balancing acidity, the overall effect is pure elegance.
This is a significant wine to be served with a special dinner — fish, chicken, or risotto with asparagus and shrimp or lobster would be some obvious choices.