What Am I Tasting?

This is an energetic white with zesty citrus and mineral notes ... Play the game!

February 21, 2020

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: Solidly built, with flinty notes surrounding the base of gooseberry and lime zest flavors. Bracing and very minerally, showing good energy and focus throughout.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our mystery wine shows mineral character joined by gooseberry and citrus flavors, with energy that indicates a core of bright acidity. Let’s see how our options match up!

Gewürztraminer is a cool-climate grape that often demonstrates citrus and mineral flavors. However, Gewürztraminers tend to show riper fruit flavors, especially lychee, as well as distinct floral notes, fuller body and lower acidity. This makes it an unlikely candidate for our energetic mystery wine.

Grenache Blanc is best known for the full-bodied wines it produces in northeastern Spain and in the south of France. In Spain it is generally bottled on its own, while French appellations are more likely to use the grape in blends, most notably in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. While Grenache Blanc can show the lime and mineral flavors we are looking for, its sumptuous body and milder acidity make it too dissimilar to our note.

Chardonnay is a wildly successful international variety, noted for being relatively easy to grow and adaptable to many climates. Produced in a broad range of styles, its expressions vary, with aromas ranging from rich tropical notes to white peach and orchard fruit. Although this grape can show high acidity and citrus flavors in appellations like France’s Chablis, “gooseberry” would be an unlikely descriptor for even the freshest versions of Chardonnay.

Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s signature white grape, ticks several boxes here, with its bright acidity, minerality and aromas of gooseberry and citrus. However, our mystery wine is missing one of Grüner’s most notable elements—its white pepper note. There may yet be a better match.

Sauvignon Blanc, another extremely successful international variety, is made in several styles. Many of its noted versions show bright citrus and mineral character, with lime, gooseberry and flint notes layered over its lighter body and bright acidity.

This wine is a Sauvignon Blanc.

Country or Region of Origin

Sauvignon Blanc grows all over the world. However, Oregon is not a significant Sauvignon Blanc producer, with the state being far better known for its Chardonnay.

There are some Sauvignon Blanc plantings in Austria, but the grape is far surpassed in popularity there by Grüner Veltliner, Müller Thurgau and several other varieties.

In Spain, Sauvignon Blanc is most often found in blends with grapes such as Verdejo. Although Sauvignon Blanc has increased in popularity in Spain, varietal bottlings remain rare. With Spain eliminated from the running, we are left with only two regions, both well-known for their Sauvignon Blancs: New Zealand and France.

The grape is a leading variety in New Zealand, where versions tend toward grassy notes and herbal, almost vegetal aromatics along with tropical fruit and the bright citrus flavors in our wine. However, our mystery Sauvignon Blanc also has flint and mineral notes, suggesting there might be another country that’s a better fit.

Sauvignon Blanc is native to France, where it remains a popular variety. There are noteworthy Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, among others. Both sweet and dry Sauvignon Blancs are made throughout the country, to various levels of ripeness. But France’s dry Sauvignon Blancs are often produced as bright, mineral-focused whites with hints of flint, and tangy citrus flavors.

This Sauvignon Blanc is from France.

Appellation

Knowing that our Sauvignon Blanc must come from a French appellation, we can eliminate New Zealand’s Marlborough, Spain’s Rioja, Austria’s Wachau and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This leaves us with just France’s Alsace and Sancerre appellations.

Alsace is a cooler climate region, as Sauvignon Blanc would prefer, resplendent with hillside vineyards. It is notable for its white wines, sometimes produced to higher sweetness levels, or with influence from botrytis. However, Alsace’s primary grapes are Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.

Sauvignon Blanc is widely grown in the Loire Valley, in appellations including Pouilly-Fumé, Touraine and Sancerre. Many of Sancerre’s producers tend to make wines that demonstrate the area’s terroir and Sauvignon Blanc’s intrinsic character. As a result, the appellation’s top Sauvignons shine with racy acidity, flinty accents and citrus notes.

This Sauvignon Blanc is from Sancerre.

Age

Considering the “bracing” quality indicated in our note, and our wine’s “good energy and focus,” we can estimate a younger age for this French Sauvignon Blanc. Let’s see if recent vintages reveal any clues.

2015 and 2016 produced fine harvests, with high temperatures in 2015 resulting in fuller, denser Sauvignon Blancs, also a hallmark of the 2016 vintage. Given the weight of the wines from these years, and the brightness of the acidity in our note, we might do better with a more recent vintage. 2017 was marked by an early harvest, with vineyards refreshed by July rains, leading to pure, precise whites. However, 2018 was a challenging year for these vines, with mildew in key appellations affecting the quality of the overall harvest.

This wine is from the 2017 vintage, making it three years old.

Wine

This is the Auguste Bonhomme Sancerre La Forcine 2017, which scored 89 points in the June 30, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $30 and 2,000 cases were imported. For more information on the wines of France’s Loire Valley, see tasting coordinator Aleks Zecevic’s tasting report, "Charm Offensive," in the Nov. 15, 2019, issue.

—Julie Harans, assistant editor