The last time I did a “two grapes” tasting, we did the two most common (and popular) - Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. This week, I want to review some great alternatives to the old standbys - Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.
Sauvignon Blanc is a green-skinned grape variety that originated inthe Bordeaux region of France. The grape most likely gets its name from the French word sauvage ("wild") and blanc("white") because it probably sprang from a wild, indigenous grape of southwest France. Depending on the climate, the flavor can range from aggressively grassy (New Zealand) to sweetly tropical (California and Australia). The wines are usually light, crisp and elegant and pair really well with our local, fresh seafood (even sushi, if you dare), fresh garden salads and fresh goat cheese (Chevre). The more herbaceous styles, like the New Zealand, go well with any green vegetable and can even pair with the lovely fresh asparagus we’re pulling out of our garden. Seems like I’m using the word “fresh” a lot. It’s one of the best features of these wines. For that reason, they are commonly bottled with a screwcap.
Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand) Regular Price $14.50/ Feature Price $12.33
This is typical NZ-style Sauv Blanc, with the typical flavor profile of gooseberry, lime and kiwi...and fresh-cut green grass. It’s this “grassiness,” also known as “herbaceousness” that gives the wine its unique taste. Those green notes, coupled with the citrusy lime tang make the wine an excellent pairing with veggies. And its moderate 13% alcohol level makes it very easy to drink.
NO Sauvignon Blanc (Lake County, California) Regular $14.65/ Feature $12.45
This one's from a bunch of guys who were sitting around at dinner sharing their combined 100 years experience in the wine business. They were griping about how much hype had entered the California wine business and dreamed of "a value-oriented, quality wine with no boundaries, no rules and no precedent." And here we have their Sauvignon Blanc, sourced from vineyards all around the cool hills of Lake County. It's like it says on the bottle label: "NO oak aging NO cork NO malolactic fermentation NO attitude NO kidding." NO reason not to try this one. It may become your summertime YES wine.
Newton Johnson Sauvignon Blanc (Upper Hemel-en Aarde Valley, South Africa) Regular Price $20.70/ Feature Price $17.60
We first introduced the Newton Johnson family winery exactly a year ago in “New from South of the Equator.” Since then, it and its siblings (the Felicité Pinot Noir and No Oak Chardonnay) have become customer favorites. Here’s another chance to discover or rediscover a truly stunning white wine from South Africa.
Whereas Chards and Cabs are the wines that made California famous, I think of Zinfandel as the wine that made California happy. This week we offer a selection of Zinfandel wines in different styles. There’s something here for everyone.
Silver Creek White Zinfandel (California) Everyday price $10.75
The Zinfandel grape makes a very nice dry rosé wine, which is what Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home winery was making and selling very successfully as “White Zinfandel.” In 1976 Trinchero experienced a “stuck fermentation,” where the yeast cells die off and fail to convert all of the grape sugar into alcohol. The result was a sweet, blush style wine. Trinchero decided to try to market it and was astounded at the reception. Now White Zinfandel blush wines outsell the dry red style by 6 to 1 and make up almost 10% of California wine production. This Silver Creek is the only White Zinfandel I carry. It has more of the berry flavors of the Zin grape and less cloying sweetness than the cheaper varieties.
Matané Primitivo (Puglia, Italy) Regular Price $14.65/ Feature Price $12.45
California is the only place they grow a grape called Zinfandel and the viticulture experts were curious about where it came from. So they did some DNA studies at UC-Davis and found that Zinfandel is genetically identical to a grape that’s called Primitivo in the bootheel of Italy. That makes sense, since most of the California wine industry was started by transplanted Italians and their transplanted grape vines. We used to carry a wine called Mother Zin, so we’ve started referring to Primitivo as “Zinfandel’s Mama.”
Four Vines Old Vine Cuvee Zinfandel (California) Regular Price $16.50/ Feature Price $14.03
The Four Vines Winery is located in Sonoma County, but for their Old Vine Cuveé the blend the grapes from old vines vineyards in the Mendocino, Amador, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Lodi appellations. This brings the richness and depth of mature Zinfandel at a very affordable price. Serve this one with hearty stews or soups or, my favorite, something slathered with spicy barbecue sauce and served hot from the grill or smoker.
Peirano Immortal Zin (Lodi, California) Regular $14.90/ Feature $12.67
This is a new one for us. I tasted it a few weeks ago. It’s made by the people who do The Other red and white blends. Made from the fruit of 113-year-old vines and aged 12 months in French oak, this is a big wine. And it shows one of the “problems” with California Zins these days...it has 14.8% alcohol. That’s because the Zinfandel grapes get so ripe that they’re laden with sugar. If you don’t want it White Zin sweet, you end up with higher alcohol. Of course, for many wine drinkers, that’s no “problem” at all. Sorry about the name. Producers can’t seem to help the play on “sin.” We just go along. So how about some “Forgive me for I have Zinned” napkins?