Wine review of Sauvignon Blanc, Valentin Bianchi, Cupcake Vineyards, Santa Ema

Around the New World with Sauvignon Blanc

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Summer is here, and with its arrival lighter wines can -- and really should -- be enjoyed in full force. Reds are great, but nice weather, outdoor dining and the like call for something different. One of the great summer grapes is Sauvignon Blanc. Versatility is at the core of this grape on several levels. First, the finished wines tend to go with a wide array of foods because they match particularly well with lighter, warm-weather fare. But that’s only one part of its versatility. The other lies in adaptability to different corners of the world. There are a host of regions and countries that make excellent Sauvignon Blanc. The key is that depending on where it’s from, the flavors can be quite distinct. This time out I’m looking at three Sauvignon Blancs that are delicious and very affordable. While you can certainly spend more money on them, the quality-to-price ratio of this grape tends to be excellent, particularly in many New World countries.

Valentin BianchiThe first Sauvignon Blanc is from Valentin Bianchi in Argentina. I’ve been fond of this producer for a number of years. At several tiers and price points they deliver -- often over-deliver -- on quality. This particular Sauvignon Blanc is from their Famiglia Bianchi line, the second tier up in their portfolio. The Famiglia Bianchi 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was made from fruit sourced at the Las Paredes Estate in San Rafael, where the vineyard sits at 750 meters (about a half mile) above sea level. The grapes (all Sauvignon Blanc) were handpicked, and the wine was fermented in stainless steel. It spent two months in bottle prior to releases. About 4,000 cases of this selection were made and the suggested retail price is $11.99.

A hint of thyme leads the nose of this Sauvignon Blanc. That gentle aroma is quickly followed by a series of tropical and citrus notes; grapefruit is dominant amongst these. The palate shows off a pure blast of lemon ice flavor that cuts through the core with biting precision. Honeydew and green apple flavors join in as well. Wisps of ginger emerge and lead to the finish, which is light, crisp and refreshing. This selection drinks exceptionally well on its own and would work particularly nicely as a welcome wine. For $12 (less if you shop around) this is a contender for a case purchase if you’re looking for a house white.

Cupcake VineyardsCupcake Vineyards is a Monterey, California-based producer that sources fruit for its wine from all over the world. The Cupcake 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was produced from fruit grown in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Over the last 15+ years, Marlborough has become one of the world’s most renowned areas to grow and produce Sauvignon Blanc. This selection (100 percent Sauvignon Blanc) was fermented in stainless steel. The winery produced 50,000 cases of this Sauvignon Blanc, and the suggested retail price is $13.99.

Honeydew, gooseberry, citrus and grass aromas fill the nose of this New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. These characteristics continue in the palate where the grassiness picks up some steam and joins forces with lemon pudding reference points. Lime kicks in around mid-palate, and at that point a touch of an oily undertone also shows up, making the flavors cling nicely to the back of your throat. A host of spice notes, particularly white pepper emerge in the finish, which has a savory/sour edge that lingers. This selection is tasty enough on its own, but works best accompanying light foods. It’s interesting to note that I’ve seen this wine pop up at quite a few restaurants as a by-the-glass pour. I’ve talked to a lot of folks about it and this wine seems to be emerging as a very appealing mainstream option.

Santa EmaThe last wine this time out is from Santa Ema in Chile. Similar to Valentin Bianchi, they have several tiers and designations for their wines. This one is from their Amplus line, a word taken from the Latin for “important or sophisticated.” The Santa Ema 2009 Amplus Sauvignon Blanc was produced using fruit sourced in the Ledya Valley of Chile. As with the others, this offering is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc. It was fermented in stainless steel and aged there for six months prior to bottling. This wine has a suggested retail price of about $15.

This Sauvignon Blanc from Chile has the most lively and expressive nose of the trio. Lime is dominant, followed by a hint of cardamom and a touch of rosemary. The palate is incredibly even and loaded with gentle flavors. Mineral notes appear in addition to continued lime, as well as grass. A bit of pineapple comes out towards the back of the palate and leads into the finish, which shows off white pepper and grapefruit flavors in a crisp, racy close. The Santa Ema Amplus Sauvignon Blanc has excellent acidity and very good balance. This would pair particularly well with soft, creamy cheeses.

The three Sauvignon Blancs featured here represent great values. They’re distinct wines that show off some of the different faces of this grape. And the word some is the key here. There are many other faces and expressions to explore with this grape, in addition to the three here. With the buy-in low on so many Sauvignon Blancs, it’s a great varietal to experiment with for cost reasons too.

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