Wines of the Week
A new look at an old favorite
What’s Your Favorite Wine?
I’ve written in the past that people who become passionate about wine (maybe not to the point where they become wine writers and educators, but…) have had an epiphany somewhere along the way. Someone pours you a glass of something, you taste it, and say, “Holy moley, I never knew anything could taste like that.” For wife Debi and me, it was a glass of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. I did write an article about this (favorite) varietal about two years ago, but something just happened that gave me a new perspective, and drove me (and you, I hope) back to this delicious wine.
I was introduced to Laura Díaz Muñoz, who just completed her first vintage as winemaker at Ehlers Estate in Napa. She developed her unique perspective on this varietal during her experience over the last decade, and since just about every winemaker has their own personal signature wine, this one is hers.
Laura’s winemaking philosophy is very much Old World, since she was born in Spain and earned a master’s degree in enology and viticulture. She has experience working in wineries in Spain, New Zealand and eventually the Napa Valley, and brings that sensibility to the way she crafts her Sauvignon Blanc. “After earning my degree,” she told me, “I worked with Sauvignon Blanc in Spain, then worked several harvests in New Zealand. But I was very interested in the varietal right from the start of my career.”
She says, “Sauvignon Blanc is the most difficult fine wine to make. When I first started as a winemaker it gave me nightmares, because there is no room for error. It requires perfect farming and is very sensitive to heat and lack of water.”
Another critical factor: the nose. Laura maintains “I want to get all the aromatics I can from the varietal. We pick the grapes early to preserve the acidity, then we look for the notes of herbs and yellow flowers.” She goes on to explain, “In the winery, it can quickly lose its aromatics or develop off flavors. When made with care, with respect for the varietal and where it’s from, it can be beautifully expressive.”
So…here are some thoughts on her unique version, plus several new favorites.
Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($32)
This is a super-dry version of a very popular varietal, with teeth-tickling acidity and rich floral aromas and flavors. You’ll sense orange and lemon, along with the pineapple notes that are characteristic of this varietal. The grapefruit and citrus sensations persist on the long finish. WW 93
Saldo Zinfandel Oakville 2016 ($28)
An explosion of concentrated fruit aromas, mostly cherry and some cigar. Deep mixed red fruit on the palate with a creamy mouthfeel and long finish. Mostly Zinfandel, with 15% Petite Sirah and Syrah. Definitely a solo sipping wine. WW 88-89
The Kinker Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2016 ($20)
Hedonistic aromas of smoke and cedar from the 14 months in oak. Flavors of black cherry and blackberry are nicely balanced by the medium tannin levels. A touch of Petite Sirah and Grenache makes this a lot of wine for the money. WW 92
Domaine Lafage Centenaire Grenache Blanc Côtes du Roussillon 2015 ($13)Luscious ripe pear and almond aromas waft from the glass and pay off on the palate with notes of white peach. Smooth and round mouthfeel. Terrific value. WW 91
Ryder Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast 2016 ($15)
A lot of dimension here, with complex aromas of leather, dark cherry, and smoke. Medium light tannins support mixed cherry and berry flavors. Ideal for everyday enjoyment. WW 86