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Tasting Note

Posted October 06, 2017 Wonderfully vibrant, with ruby grapefruit and tangerine flavors that sing out, offering crisp acidity and accents of lime zest, orange sherbet and honeysuckle on the long, expressive and creamy finish.

And the answer is...


Varietal

This week's mystery wine is singing the clues. It's vibrant and crisp, with loads of citrus flavors and a honeysuckle finish. What could this mouthwatering wine be?

We can start by eliminating Gewürztraminer as a possible candidate. The grape's telltale spiciness, rose petal and lychee aromas and flavors are nowhere to be found in our tasting note.

Verdelho is one of the white grapes used in Portugal's fortified Madeira wines, producing smoky, medium-dry versions from the island of the same name. The grape is also made into lively dry wines that can be waxy or oily in texture. Either way, it's not a good fit for our wine.

Grüner Veltliner is Austria's most widely planted white grape. It produces crisp, savory white wines with well-spiced citrus and stone fruit flavors as well as mineral, cream and white pepper notes. The acidity and citrus certainly ring true with our mystery wine, but Grüners are most distinct for their herbaceous spice and pepper character and a waxy texture that eliminate the grape from consideration.

Sémillon is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc to create a wine with both body and texture from the former, and ripe fruit and acidity from the latter. It's the base of some of the world's greatest dessert wines, like Bordeaux's Sauternes, due to its susceptibility to Botrytis cinerea, also known as "noble rot." As a standalone grape it can produce full-bodied wines with oily textures and fig, pear, honey and hay flavors. That doesn't sound like our wine.

Our final choice is Sauvignon Blanc. Distinctive for its pungent herbal and floral aromas and flavors, Sauvignon produces light- to medium-bodied wines marked by mouthwatering acidity and bold grapefruit and other citrus flavors. The grape is made in a variety of styles, from oaked versions that are rich and fleshy to steel-fermented wines that are zingy and fruit-centered. Typical flavors include citrus, stone fruit and tropical fruits, along with mineral and herbal accents.

This wine is a Sauvignon Blanc.

Country

Sauvignon Blanc is planted across the globe, from its ancestral home in France to New World regions like New Zealand, South Africa and the West Coast. Cool-climate Sauvignon Blancs are typically bright and refreshing, with vibrant acidity and citrus flavors. In warmer regions, the grape can be richer and more robust.

The first countries to knock off our list are Portugal and Oregon. Portuguese vintners typically turn to indigenous grapes for their white wines, and the rare versions from Oregon express a cooler-climate style. Our Sauvignon Blanc's creamy orange sherbet note suggests a richer style from a warmer climate.

Sauvignon Blanc is planted throughout Austria where it is made into both dry and dessert wines. But the dry wines are typically more minerally in style than our wine-again, Austria's versions are more cool-climate in style-so let's move on.

New Zealand's flagship white grape, Sauvignon Blanc is also the country's most widely planted variety. The benchmark style is zingy and expressive, offering grapefruit, lime and tropical fruits as well as grass and mineral accents. While a growing group of vintners are using techniques such as barrel fermentation and wild yeast to add texture and flavor to their wines, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc's hallmark is a crisp, clean, zingy finish-our wine's creamy note suggests there's a better fit.

California vintners are paying more attention to Sauvignon Blanc than ever before, employing a wide variety of winemaking techniques to coax out its distinctive flavors and aromas. They are also dialing back on the use of oak in their wines (formerly popular among Sauvignon Blancs branded as "Fumé Blanc"). In general, California versions are light- to medium-bodied, with classic citrus and stone fruits that can veer toward tropical flavors, along with herbal and mineral accents. At their best the wines balance the grape's crisp acidity with a fleshy texture.

This Sauvignon Blanc is from California.

Age

Sauvignon Blanc is often released within two years of harvest to retain its refreshing acidity and vibrant flavors. Our wine's creamy finish could be an indication that the winemaker let the wine rest on its lees for a while (sur lie aging and bâttonage) for additional complexity and texture. Taking our wine's vibrant flavors and acidity into account, however, we can safely assume it's a younger wine.

The 2016 vintage in California was marked by a season that seesawed from hot to cold back to hot again, producing supple and refreshing wines, but it's unlikely a wine that young would have the complexity of our wine, including its creamy finish. 2015 was a drought year, with low yields that produced refined wines with good fruit intensity. That sounds like our wine.

This Sauvignon Blanc is from 2015, making it two years old.

Appellation

Now that we know our wine is from California, we can eliminate Portugal's Madeira, New Zealand's Marlborough, Austria's Kremstal and Oregon's Rogue Valley. That leaves two appellations from the Golden State.

Located in western Mendocino County, Anderson Valley is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay territory. Coastal fog and cool breezes funnel into the valley, tempering the relatively warm days, lending vibrancy to the still and sparkling wines. Vintners also grow aromatic whites such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. But you won't find much Sauvignon Blanc here.

Napa Valley is known for its Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays, but the warm Mediterranean climate and moderating influence of San Pablo Bay create ideal conditions for a variety of grapes, including Sauvignon Blanc. Napa vintners are moving away from the smoky, oaky "Fumé Blanc" style that Robert Mondavi pioneered in the 1970s, aiming for more vibrancy and balance in their wines. The warm days and cool nights produce rich, full-bodied versions with expressive flavors and crisp acidity.

This Sauvignon Blanc is from Napa Valley.

Wine

This is the Phifer Pavitt Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley Date Night 2015, which scored 92 points in the May 31 issue of Wine Spectator. The wine retails for $30, and 850 cases were made. For more information on Sauvignon Blanc from California, read senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec's tasting report, "Fresh Perspective," in the May 31 issue.

-Augustus Weed, tasting coordinator

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