A couple years ago I read a book by Eric Arnold titled, “My First Big Crush: The down and dirty of making great wine down under” and was immediate taken by his off-color, and frequently irreverent perspective towards the wine industry. His story is a personal account of working the crush during one of New Zeeland’s biggest harvest years as an aspiring author, turned would-be cellar rat. I was inspired by his adventure and captivated by the idea of an extraordinary Sauvignon Blanc – and thus, I began my tasting with high expectations.
Each of my tasting notes, unless otherwise indicated, is designed as a vertical blind tasting. Four of us were gathered around a square table with five wine glasses, atop of white paper, in front of us. We tasted silently (as silent as we could) and took notes. Then we discussed.
1. 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. Angeline, Russian River Valley (CA). Source: ?, cost: ?)
At 13.9% alcohol, Angeline displayed a light straw color and gave off a delicate, almost imperceptible floral fragrance and a touch of melon. Other than a full, round mouth-feel, this wine lacked substance with the exception of a slight perception of sweetness and a hint of oak. The finish was long and unpleasant with its high alcohol. Some of my comments: “nondescript, burns, high alcohol, kind of boring”.
2. 2007 Sancerre, Domaine Franck Millet (Appellation Dorigne Controlee - FRA). Source: Johns Grocery (Iowa City), cost: $16.99
An intriguing golden-hued wine greeted me with prototypical floral characteristics and wisps of fruit, citrus and pineapple were predominant. A nicely balanced, yet thin, pleasing green-apple flavor lasted just long enough to leave me wanting more. Comments: “light smoky quality, guessing this is a French wine. Maybe some oak” Delicious.
3.NV Sauvignon Blanc. Barefoot Cellars (CA). Source: ?, cost: ?).
Crystal clear and pale yellow, this Barefoot Cellar represents a good wine gone bad! At first glance this bottom-shelf wine gave rise to a light spritz as evidenced more by visual inspection than by taste. This hint, a clue to a possible fault, should have stopped me right here, but instead I dove nose first into what can best be described as olfactory overload! First sniff reminded me of one of my earliest jobs working in the paint shop of a Chevy dealership in Grand Rapids, Michigan – yes, a paint shop aroma! Leaving good sense behind the tasting continued, my notes read: “thin, unpleasant chemical quality, possibly turpentine”. If the smell and taste wasn’t bad enough, the lingering finish left my mid-palate begging for a cracker and a rinse.
4. 2005 Sauvignon Blanc - Reserve. Rancho Zabaco, Russian River Valley (CA). Source: Hy-Vee, cost: $5 on sale).
This California Sauvignon Blanc, golden-yellow in color, initially overloaded my sensory neurons with a familiar smell. I’ve heard about the aromatic compound of this varietal, frequently cited in the literature, but as they say, I hadn’t experienced it firsthand. Cat pee. Apparently, wine science geeks who study such things have identified the odor as “p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one”(a sulfur compound) that does strikingly, in fact, smell an awful lot like cat pee. Once I composed myself from the initial shock of the aromas (now, I’m being nice), I took a slurp and found a powerhouse wine full of grapefruit, medium bodied, seductively balanced and dare I say…Interesting. Frankly, the more I tasted (I returned to this wine several times) the more complex and interested I became. My $5 sale rack wine was a hit!
5. 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. Allan Scott Family Winemakers, Marlborough (NZ). Source: Johns Grocery (I.C.), cost: $9.99
In my lead in to this posting I introduced you to Eric Arnold, the author of the book I read, but what I didn’t mention was the fact he worked at Allan Scott. I was thrilled to find this brand at my Iowa City store and couldn’t wait to taste it. Visually, a nice green-to-yellow tinted wine gave way to a lackluster hint of citrus and melon on the nose. Not a strong starter aromatically and gustatorily speaking, provided an equally disappointing bitter, almost a pithy grapefruit quality, much like chewing the white flesh of a grapefruit. On a positive note, this Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc wine did offer a full, rich and almost creamy mouthfeel that I wasn’t expecting. My notes read: “not terribly memorable, some lingering post-swallow heat, bitter taste”. Honestly, after revealing the wines I was disappointed, not because it was necessarily bad, but because I had such high hopes for a wine (and wine company) that felt I knew.Post Tasting Notes: For me, this tasting was less interesting than the previous two (i.e., Chardonnay and Riesling) and I am not really sure why. Perhaps it was due to my high expectations for this varietal or maybe it was the result of poorly chosen selection of wines. In any case, my favorites were the California, Rancho Zabaco (surprisingly!) and the French, Sancerre (Domaine Franck Millet) – both very yummy!