Last week, in the midst of a swirling snowstorm, I met some friends for dinner at Eighty-One, a relatively new restaurant on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The chef is Ed Brown, who formerly cooked at Sea Grill in Rockefeller Center; the wine director is Heather Branch, who trained under Raj Parr and Larry Stone in San Francisco. It's a dynamite team and a delightful room.
Brown specialized in seafood at the Sea Grill, naturally, and we all ordered fish for our first courses. So I was perusing Branch's savvy, eclectic wine list for a white, and the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley 2007 ($75) caught my eye. I remembered a recent blog by James Laube, where he called the wine "probably the greatest Sauvignon Blanc I've ever had from anywhere." So I had to try it.
The wine's aromas exploded from the glass, even with just the tasting pour—tangerine, honeysuckle, spices, honey. It was full-bodied, yet vibrant acidity kept it lively and focused. The bold flavors ranged from tart, juicy citrus to ripe, tropical fruit to sweet oak. I rated it 93 points, non-blind.
It was irresistible on its own, but perhaps a bit too expressive for some of the dishes; while it cozied up to sweet grilled scallops, it clashed with the heat in chorizo and piquillo peppers that stuffed sautéed calamari.
I love Sauvignon Blanc, but generally lean toward the more austere, minerally style from Sancerre. The Merry Edwards showed plenty of complexity, but at a rock-and-roll volume. Not surprising, I guess, in a wine made from the aromatic Musqué clone, barrel-fermented and heavily bâtonnaged (stirred on the lees). It's an impressive effort, and evidence of the character this grape can show in the hands of a skilled winemaker.
See the Feb. 11, 2009, Insider for the official review: Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley 2007