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Sauvignon blanc is fun to play with


     Winemakers love to play with sauvignon blanc. First, there's no consensus about how it should taste -- it can range from feline to flinty to gooseberries and ripe pineapples. Second, it takes readily to such experimentation, its flavors changing noticeably with the addition of less than 1 percent of another grape.
      This makes it hard for wine fans to know what to expect. In many cases the only way to tell is to buy a bottle, open it and taste it.
       Not that that's a hardship.
       Here's some of what's going on:
       At Robert Pecota Winery and many others in California, winemakers seek a style that centers on crispness and purity of fruit. They ferment the grapes at cool temperatures in stainless steel tanks, they avoid oak-barrel aging and the secondary (malolactic) fermentation that softens many chardonnays, they bottle it early to preserve the fruit. It's a great style to go with food.
       Other wineries seek a richer, rounder, riper, more complex style of sauvignon blanc. Murphy-Goode winery, in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley, uses 80 percent regular sauvignon blanc grapes but adds 20 percent of a different clone of sauvignon blanc called sauvignon musqué -- for its added richness and citrus flavors. It ferments 72 percent of the grapes in French oak barrels and puts 9 percent of the wine through malolactic fermentation, seeking richness. It makes a great wine for sipping alone, as an aperitif.
        Kendall-Jackson Estate Vineyards pulls out all the stops, seeking richness and complexity using grapes from Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma counties, blending in small
proportions of semillon, viognier and muscat canelli, fermenting 8 percent of the grapes in new oak barrels. This, too, is great as an aperitif.
        Outside the United States, still other experiments are going on with sauvignon
blanc. Henry's Drive Vignerons in Australia blends its sauvignon blanc with chardonnay and verdelho – a practice seldom seen in America -- producing a wine that is particularly rich and ripe.

     So, class, here's your homework assignment: Try every sauvignon blanc you can get your hands on, take notes and figure out which style you like best. It's a free country.


• 2007 Robert Pecota
Winery Sauvignon Blanc
‘‘L'Artist'' Loney Vineyard,
Napa Valley: crisp and lean,
with flavors of white grape-
fruit, green apple and miner-
als; $16.

   • 2007 Kendall-Jack-
son Vintner's Reserve Sau-
vignon Blanc, Calif. (93 per-
cent sauvignon blanc, 4.4
percent semillon, 0.3 percent
viognier, 0.3 percent muscat
canelli): a complex blend of
ripe tropical fruit, from man-
gos to oranges, with crisp
white grapefruit; $11.


   • 2007 Patianna Vine-
yards Sauvignon Blanc,
Mendocino County: aromas
and flavors of ripe peaches
with the crispness of limes
and white grapefruit; $18.

   • 2007 Murphy-Goode
‘‘The Fumé'' Sauvignon
Blanc, Alexander Valley:
rich, ripe and complex, with
ripe tropical fruit flavors and
a tart finish; $12.

   • Pillar Box White
Wine, Henry's Drive Vigne-
rons, Padthaway and Ade-
laide Hills, Australia (56 per-
cent chardonnay, 30 percent
sauvignon blanc, 14 percent
verdelho): soft and ripe, with
aromas of oranges and man-
gos; $12.

   • 2007 Fortress Vine-
yards Sauvignon Blanc,
Red Hills Lake County: pow-
erful and dry, rich and miner-
ally; $15.

   • 2007 Bohemian High-
way Sauvignon Blanc, Cali-
fornia: crisp, herbaceous,
fruity, with pink grapefruit
flavors; $8.


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