Sauv blanc 9-9-2015

Sauvignon blanc ranks as world class wine after once being associated with poorboy plonk or snooty French names no one understood. Long, strange journey.

The grape likely originated in Bordeaux, but now primarily is associated with Loire Valley, where the wine is called Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, depending upon appellation. Those names do not trip easily off American tongues, and prices for those pours also can cause pause.

Early days in the U.S. didn’t help sauv blanc’s reputation since it often was Central Valley jug or boxed wine. Robert Mondavi knew it could achieve more and attempted to create a market for Fumé Blanc, his made-up marketing name for sauv blanc.

Then New Zealand makers found ways in vineyard and winery to evoke more fruit expression, creating a style now imitated even in France. Marlborough, northern part of southern island, began producing world-class pours in the 1980s—food friendly wines with tongue-cutting acidity and vivid citrus fruits.

Today, sauv blanc is go-to alternative to chardonnay because it plays so well with food, and because—unlike chard—you pretty much know what you will get (chard can be anything, from flintily austere to a fried butter vanilla bar). Sauv blanc can be treacly, too, but quality makers abandoned that style long ago.

Sauv blanc’s history in California is checkered. Once New Zealanders demonstrated the delights possible, more California makers went back to quality production with sauv blanc on the label.

Fumé, by the way, means smoke, but smoke is not part of the flavor profile. Smoke reference comes from gray bloomthat coats the grape at maturity in the Loire Valley.

Bottom line: competently made sauv blanc pairs with almost any food. Something to remember when flummoxed by food pairing decisions.

Tasting notes:

• Robert Mondavi Private Selection California Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast 2014: Light white with good acidity, easy drinking, great for warm-day sipping, plays well with food. $9

• Jean-Claude Mas Arrogant Frog Sauvignon Blanc 2013: French Languedoc’s answer to New Zealand; it has less grass, more tart freshness, great value. $11

• Franciscan Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2014: Lemon, grapefruit, green apple, lingering lime finish; food friendly, racy style—bracing acidity and light juiciness. $18

Last round: I do not have a hangover. I have wine flu.

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