I love tasting multiple interpretations of the same variety! On this night we tasted Sauvignon Blancs from four countries and multiple producers with a wide array of styles. Overall it was an excellent group of food friendly wines and I continue to believe Sauvignon Blanc is a highly underrated grape. Thanks to Jay and Cheryl for organizing!
We started in France…
2008 Clos Roche Blanch #2
Light golden color. Expressive and enticing nose. Fresh! Some herbal traits. Red grapefruit and melon on the palate. Lots of acidity and energy combined with an underlying minerality. Very long soothing finish. A superb and thrilling wine for $14 that would pair beautifully with a wide array of food.
The vineyards of Clos Roche Blanche were planted on the Touraine hills bordering the Cher river by the Roussel family at the end of the 19th century and have remained in the family since. Catherine Roussel took over this 28-hectare estate in 1975 from her father, and was later joined by Didier Barrouillet, who tends the vineyards and makes the wine. Both are enthusiastic proponents of non-interventionist winemaking.
Their soil is poor, mainly clay with flint over a limestone subsoil. Roussel and Barrouillet keep yields low by maintaining old vines, using organic fertilizers in moderation and growing grass between and plowing under the rows.
They converted the vineyards to organic farming and, with the 1995 vintage, received the official “organic agriculture” accreditation. The vines are treated with copper and sulfur solutions, and plant decoctions (a mixture of nettles and other herbs) used in biodynamic viticulture.
The grapes are hand-harvested and the Sauvignon Blanc is macerated for 48 hours. The must is handled by gravity at all stages. The wine then ages on its lees, is bottled by gravity by hand without filtration to avoid mechanical manipulation that would unsettle it. Instead of using sulfur at bottling, the bottles are blanketed with CO2. Their Sauvignon Blanc, of incredible purity and fruit, is available at amazingly low prices. All the red wines have true varietal character, and the depth associated with low yields and optimum ripeness.
Neither Catherine or Didier has studied oenology or viticulture. They both learned their trade in the vineyards and the cellar, searching for methods and techniques to make wines of exceptional character in an appellation of modest reputation.
2007 Lucien Crochet Sancerre
Extremely light in color. Very nice aromatics including a non-offensive cheddar cheese smell. Very juicy on the palate but still delicate and refreshing. Overall smooth, balanced and focused but lacked just a bit of energy.
Method of Vinification: Harvest is done manually. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes are crushed in a pneumatic press; juice is racked off the heavy lees 18 to 24 hours after crushing; fermentation proceeds under controlled conditions at low temperatures. The wines remain on the lees in stainless steel until March of the following year. The wines are lightly fined and filtered and bottled just prior to the next year’s harvest. Malolactic fermentation never occurs. The late harvest Sancerre and the Cuvee LC Blanc are partially barrel-fermented and barrel aged in small oak (approximately 15% new). Prior to 1990 the red wines were not destemmed. However, beginning with the 1990 vintage, all the red wines are 100% destemmed. Vinification of the reds is done in classic Burgundian style with extended cuvaison and malolactic fermentation occurring in barrel for the Cuvee LC. The reds are bottled after 15 to 18 months of aging.
2007 Michel Bailly Pouilly Fume Domaine des Valles
Light-to-Medium golden color. A very cool and surprising white pepper characteristic reminded me of a Gruner Veltliner. An interesting spice component on the palate. Minerality and some sweetness. Overall a distinctive and complex wine that I enjoyed very much.
Viticultural method: Lutte Raisonnee
Triage: table de tri
Fermentation: 12 days
Aging: on the lees for 5-6 months with several stirring
New Oak: everything in stainless steel tank
2005 Francois Cotat – Les Monts Damnes
A slightly funky nose showing some signs of SO2. It did not bother me as much as others. Excellent minerality, a slight yeasty character, juicy and a slightly heavier texture but still light and fresh.
From North Berkely Imports:
These “damned mountains” are so named for their steepness and challenge in both cultivation and harvesting—another reason François Cotat Sancerre is completely hand-harvested. (Or perhaps rear-harvested? The Cotats invented a system where one slides down the hill on a cushion, picking grapes as you go.) The most chalky and chiseled of François’ offerings, “Les Monts Damnés” nurtures 25+ year old vines on rich Kimmeridgian soils, the same that feed Chablis. Clear gold with green touches in the glass, the wine delivers perfumes of dried flowers and blood orange rinds, with an incredibly peppery energy. Luxurious and supple on the palate, we discovered flavors of candied lemons and poached white fruits, and of course plenty of chalk dust. Pure and diamond-cut.
On to my true love Austria…
2006 F.X. Pichler Smaragd
I held on to this wine over the course of the dinner and I am very glad that I did because it really opened up. Beautiful aromatics that are distinctively Austrian. A combination of earth, minerality, lime, lemon, spice, and smoked meat. On the palate lentil and pepper components that I get in many Austrian Gruners. Also a hint of honey. Superbly balanced with complex layers of flavors that continue to evolve. Simply put this wine was exciting and a perfect example of why F.X. Pichler is one of my favorite producers.
From David Schildknecht
“This exceptional success confirms the wisdom of Lucas Pichler in having lobbied for the continuation of the estate’s “experiments” with Sauvignon Blanc.”
A mainstream reference point…
2008 Cloudy Bay
It was nice to have a representative from New Zealand. Light color. Nice aromatics but slightly over-the-top. This tasted too sweet on palate for my tastes and I can’t help but wonder if the sweetness is intended for its target market. Most importantly the wine lacked acidity. Overall not a bad wine and wine I could easily drink.
The Debut of Red Hook Winery…
2008 Red Hook Winery Jamesport Vineyard
Darren Palace, Assistant Winemaker at Red Hook Vineyards, brought along a special gift from Abe Schoener. A soon to be bottled sample of Sauvignon Blanc from the Jamesport Vineyard. Darren told us that they will be bottling the first wines from Red Hook in the very near future.
Medium-to-dark golden color. The aromatics are immediately recognizable to me as an “Abe wine” because of the funky nutty aromas. Extremely intense and penetrating flavors that twist and turn. Oily texture similar to Dagueneau. Very long finish with just a touch of heat that adds to the complexity of the wine rather than detracts. Interestingly what I describe as heat on the finish can’t be from alcohol because this is around 12% so I assume it just part of the fierceness of the wine. This wine had energy, tension and continued to evolve similar to the Pichler. It was exciting and thrilling to drink particularly given that it is the first vintage from Red Hook Winery and having Darren along to explain its progression in the winery was very cool.
THANKS ABE AND DARREN!
Cue California Dreaming by Eddie Hazel the guitarist from Parliament Funkadelic…
2007 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc
Textbook California Sauvignon Blanc. Aromatic. Ripe, fresh melon and easy to drink. Nice well made wine but like a Sting song just lacked an edge for my tastes.
2007 Merry Edwards
Golden color. Enticing nose with a bit of oak that is more integrated than the last time I tried this. Really juicy and flavorful. Some sweetness on the palate. A slutty wine that I can enjoy for what it is.
2005 Scholium Project Glos – McDowell Vineyard
Jay brought this ultra rare bottle and although I have had it many times before I was extremely excited to check-in on it since I had a profound bottle of 2004 Glos a few weeks ago AND this wine did not disappoint!
Medium-to-dark golden color. Crazy, intriguing aromatics. Unique yeasty and nutty flavors on the palate. Penetrating minerality and stone fruits emerge after the creamy nutty flavors. Oily texture that creates an amazing tactile sensation in your mouth. Extremely long and thought provoking finish. Enormous structure, energy and tension.
In 2005, the venerable sauvignon blanc vines of Glos received two harvests, the first under the full moon. We could not resist. It seemed only right for this strange vineyard, full of merlot, chardonnay, and sauvignon planted side by side and on top of each other. What could preserve the striking honeysuckle character of the grapes better than harvesting them in cool of the night, guided not by the harsh sun, but by the cool, sheltering moon?
Four ardent fans of the vineyard picked 300 lbs. in the middle of the night and pressed them that same night on my front porch. We took only the ripest fruit, from the southern half of the vineyard, perhaps twenty or thirty vines.
The yield was barely 20 gallons.
We made the second harvest nearly two weeks later: more conventionally, in mid-day. We found another 800 lbs., and scavenged some few clusters that we left behind from our midnight pick. This fruit certainly seemed riper, with thicker skins, and perhaps less delicately fragrant.
We fermented the wines separately: each moved so slowly, but especially the first pick. Two weeks after harvest, it still had not started- or only barely so. The second was moving more rapidly, but still quietly. We combined the wines and filled two 60 gallon barrels half full of a blend of both wines-- thinking that the second fermentation might encourage the first. But the blending did nothing to produce two identical wines-- one barrel is deeply mineral and somewhat hard. The other sings out with all of the rich floral character of the vineyard’s best fruit. I am happy to say that we have just completed blending trials based on blind tastings of multiple blends-- and that the result is a rigorously selected blend of 17 cases.
2007 Scholium Project La Severita di Bruto – Farina Vineyards
Slightly funky aromatics. Crazy burnt grapefruit flavors. Enormous minerality! Intense flavors that are not over-the-top. Juicy and delicious with a tension between the little fruit that does exist and the minerality with the minerality winning out the majority of the time.
The 2007 LSB was especially promising right from the beginning-- even before harvest. The fruit was even smaller and more intense than in 2005, though perhaps richer with less sharp acid. Pressing went very well; much better than in 2006. This year we used the beautiful old Willmes half-ton bladder presses at Tenbrink, where we have learned to run two presses at once.
For reasons that are utterly unclear to us, the fermentations of all of the whole-cluster press wine from Farina stuck in 06. The Prince went dry quickly, but the LSB and Camilla stuck hard in December of 07 and did not even restart spontaneously in the following summer or fall-- as almost all of our stuck wines do. But for some reason, they both started again after harvest, ticked through the winter (the second winters for each wine), and went dry days in advance of their spring bottling in March of 2009.
2006 Courier – Ryans Vineyard
Very dark golden color. Oxidized similar to a jura wine. Not sure if this was intended but I liked it much more than others. Creamy, nutty and saline characteristics. Honey and earthy spice flavors. A truly unique interpretation of California Sauvignon Blanc
_We finished with the Master of Sauvignon Blanc…_2006 Edmond Vatan – “Clos de Neore”
This was decanted for close to three hours and it still was not open so this is just a glimpse of what is to come.
Crystal pure color. Elegant, demur and sophisticated. Gentle minerality and beautiful flavors were just starting to emerge.
Since we were in the neighborhood a few of us including new friends headed over to Seasonal the best Austrian restaurant in the city to drink some Gruner and have some Spaetzle for dessert.
Of course we started with a sparkling reset…
NV Szigeti Gruner Veltliner Champenoise
A hint of oak combined with chalky schist rock type aromas. Lots of energy and excitement. The perfect palate refresh. This is the best sparkling Gruner that I have found.
2007 Hirtzberger Rotes Tor Smaragd Gruner Veltliner
I continue to love 2007 Austrians and given what I have tasted from 2008 I might have to pick up much more. This was a textbook Wachau Gruner. White pepper, spice, lentil, refreshing minerality with great texture that it is not too heavy.
2005 Marion Ebner Melusine Lyra
Oily texture. Intense and rich palate. Pepper, exotic fruits and vegetables and a penetratingly long finish. Great balance. I loved this wine but given it was the 15+ plus wine of the night my note does not do it justice.