It’s time to stop calling Sauvignon Blanc “the other white.” Surging in popularity recently, according to both growers selling the fruit and wineries marketing their bottles, the wine has clearly taken a chunk out of the go-to-white position that Chardonnay once exclusively enjoyed. In fact, even Chardonnay powerhouses Rombauer Vineyards and La Crema are hedging their bets with Sauvignon now too: Rombauer recently purchased a vineyard in Sonoma where they plan to devote a large acreage to the variety and La Crema is ramping up production on SB (cool-kid lingo in the industry), which they only just introduced under the brand a couple of years ago.
Pundits tend to chalk up Sauvignon Blanc’s growing popularity to its refreshing levels of acidity and its, well, simplicity—being all about bright citrus, plus (depending on where its grown) sunny stone fruits or tropicals like kiwi, guava and passionfruit … Just fruit, in other words. The first part of the assumption I’ll grant: Sauvignon Blanc is vibrant and mouth-watering (and incredibly food-friendly because of that). The second? I’d argue that confining this versatile white to the fruit bin is to do it as much of a disservice as stereotyping Chardonnay as a butter and oak bomb does to that variety. (Lovers of the world’s great Chards know better.)
Tasting the newest Sauvignon Blancs, from California and Washington in particular, has more than confirmed that good West Coast versions are anything but simplistic. Layers of complexity—nuances of fruit, yes, but also florals, herbs and minerality, and mouth-filling weight and texture—create compelling wines. Wines that demand as much thought as great Chardonnay, even while they refresh and demand another sip, in a way Chardonnay does not. Sure, there are those (often given mostly stainless-steel treatment) whose job is primarily to refresh and delight (no shame in that). But add to that the fact that many producers are throwing as many techniques at Sauvignon from prized vineyard sources as they are toward reds from those sites—oak fermentation and/or aging, alternative vessels like concrete eggs or small stainless-steel barrels and aging on the lees (often stirring) to build texture, weight and mouthfeel.
The bottles here reflect a wide range of treatment—and price, which tends to reflect the preciousness of site and winemaking (well, and pedigree of maker and vintner too, to be honest). But the quality across the range makes the argument I started with: Just don’t call these “the other whites.”
Accendo Cellars 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
With Sauvignon Musqué and Sémillon in the mix, this Sauvignon Blanc from the Araujo family’s Accendo has sophisticated appeal. The nose gives up whiffs of spicy jasmine with Meyer lemon, Asian pear, pretty stone fruit, guava and hints of green tea. And with pinpoint balance between sweet and savory notes, the palate toggles from green citrus and white nectarine to a delicate vein of salty minerality, delivered with vibrant textures.
Acumen 2019 Peak Sauvignon Blanc Atlas Peak, Napa Valley
Mountain-grown and buzzing with acidity, this Sauvignon Blanc from Acumen is for those who like their whites not only crisp and dry but also structured and mouth-filling. Lime pops on the nose, with hints of tropicals, leafy herbs and limestone minerality underneath. More green citrus anchors the palate, layered with kiwi, juicy green melon, more fresh-cut herbs and a hint of oak spice.
Aileron 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Coombsville, Napa Valley
From the team of Shannon O’Shaughnessy and Atelier Melka, this beautiful Aileron white opens with grapefruit and fresh herbs that launch a sweet-savory balance that runs throughout every sip. An earthy vein of wet rocks and whiffs of jasmine add to the tightrope. Juicy lemon-lime and pineapple flavors lace through lovely weight on the mid-palate and linger long on the finish.
Blueprint 2020 Sauvignon Blanc by Lail Vineyards Napa Valley
From Robin Lail, under the auspices of winemakers Philippe Melka and Maayan Koschitzky, comes a vibrant, richly textured Sauvignon. (It’s worth noting that in 2020, because of the fires, Lail did not make its flagship Georgia Sauvignon Blanc from its miniscule estate vineyard in Yountville, so a bit of oak-aged wine that normally would have gone into that top bottling—at $160—made its way into this one.) Fresh citrus swirls on the nose with white nectarine, green melon, spring blossoms and wet river stones. An intense and beautiful mouthful of fruit follows—apricot joining grapefruit—with creaminess giving way to savory minerality at the end. Ten percent of the proceeds from Blueprint sales go to organizations fighting climate change (Robin Lail is the US Representative to the Porto Protocol, a global initiative that asks companies to lead on climate action and share their best practices).
Cade 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
This refreshing SB from the Cade team punches way above its weight on the price front. Splashes of Sémillon and Viognier give it breadth, complexity and mouthfeel and while most sees only stainless steel, a little bit of French oak adds creamy texture. A whole basket of fruit aromas cascade from the glass: fresh lemon, juicy melon, peach and a hint of passionfruit. Bright and sassy, the palate adds lime to the lemon, plus pink grapefruit, apricot, orange peel, a little green fig and hints of minerality on the finish.
Cymbal 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley
Winemaker Gilles Nicault of Washington’s Long Shadows Vintners has fashioned a vibrant, affordable sipper. Perfumed with honeysuckle, Meyer lemon, apricot and guava aromas, the nose also harbors a vein of wet-stone minerality. Sun-drenched citrus, including bright orange peel, washes across the broad palate with ripe, juicy stone and tropical fruit and hints of savory herbs. This one is perfect for the beach or the pool.
DeLille Cellars 2019 Marguerite Columbia Valley
The team at Washington’s iconic DeLille Cellars are old hands with Sauvignon Blanc in judicious oak, with their much-loved Chaleur Blanc (a white Bordeaux–styled blend with Sémillon). But with this newer Marguerite, 100 percent Sauv Blanc, they’ve punched up the time in oak to about 18 months—to spicy, textural effect—and drawn on 50-year-old vines for intensity and complexity. That oak spice pops on the nose, along with orchard blossom notes, a hint of boxwood, exotic citrus and layers of tropical fruit. The citrus—lemon, grapefruit, lemongrass, orange peel—goes creamy on the palate and joins juicy green melon and guava, all flowing with beautiful tension through a long finish that hits every note from spice to minerality.
Gamble Family Vineyards 2019 Heart Block Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
From a small plot in the center of the Gamble Family’s land, Heart Block is consistently one of the valley’s most special Sauvignon Blancs. It’s a bold wine— aged on its lees in oak and bottled unfiltered—with mouth-filling weight and texture. The nose on the 2019 is at once concentrated, earthy and beautifully aromatic—spicy white blossoms layered with pungent herbs and green citrus. Rich but dry and vibrant, the palate exudes exotic citrus—yuzu with lemongrass—joined by tropicals and white stone fruit. This vintage will be available to club members in April.
La Pelle 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
A partnership between winemaker Maayan Koschitzky and growers Miguel Luna and Pete Richmond, La Pelle wines reflect a great balance between what key Napa vineyards can give and what a deft hand can do with that in the cellar. This 2019 Sauv Blanc is mouthwateringly juicy and yet at the same time richly textured. Exotic tropical floral aromas are layered with Asian pear and citrus (yuzu comes to mind), a vein of crushed rock and a little seasoning of oak spice. Crisp citrus, from lime zest to orangey kumquat, create bright layers around white stone fruit on a beautifully tense and concentrated palate.
Matthews 2020 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley
This delightful white from the Matthews team, getting a little extra weight and mouth-feel from a splash of Sémillon, opens like an orchard after the first rain. Green melon, with a savory herbal edge, joins sprightly lime and hints of kiwi and guava on the nose. The vibrantly textured palate that follows delivers a lovely core of fruit—bright but generous citrus, from grapefruit through tangerine zest, layered with white peach, a hint of green fig and a pleasantly minerally finish.
Memento Mori 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
Having spent about 11 months in oak (50 percent new), this jewel of a Sauv Blanc, from Memento Mori’s acclaimed winemaker Sam Kaplan, is balanced between satisfying weight and delicate nuance. Lovely acacia blossom aromas lead into lush but fresh citrus, with hints of apricot, guava and river stones. Mouth-filling textures amplify a gamut of spicy citrus on a broad but vibrant palate—from lemongrass to Meyer lemon and clementine—joining forces with ripe stone fruit and tropicals. A savory vein throughout lends sophistication. Special to Robb Report readers: Through April 11, mention this article in a request to firstname.lastname@example.org, to receive a limited allocation of this Sauvignon Blanc.
Piolet 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Royal Slope
Producer of small lots of well-sourced Washington wines, Piolet explores the ripe, fruit-forward capability of Sauv Blanc with this one. An exuberant mix of tropical, stone fruit and lemon meringue aromas open, along with fragrant lime blossoms. Fruit is almost a celebration on the palate, with apricot and peach layered on pink grapefruit, tangerine, passionfruit and pineapple. This one’s rich but vibrant and balanced with herbal notes through a lingering finish.
Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Napa and Sonoma Counties
The 2020 Sauvignon from Napa’s Spottswoode, like every vintage, is not only one of Northern California’s most finely crafted SBs for the price—it’s one of the best at any price. The list of fermentation vessels involved alone is food for the wine-geek soul: small stainless-steel barrels, French oak barrels, Hungarian oak barrels, Austrian oak barrels, concrete “cuve” (wait, what? In French, “vat” or “tank”) and clay amphora. Okay, the first two on that list account for 84 percent of the wine, but how fun to try to trace nuances to source—a little extra spice from the Hungarian oak? A skosh more texture than usual from the amphora? Focused yet perfumed, the nose gives up honeysuckle, lime, green melon and green tea, leading to a creamy but elegantly structured (largely from vibrant acidity) palate layered with more green citrus; riper pear, stone fruit and tropical hints; and a savory note akin to saffron amplifying the wine’s minerality.