Spring arrives Monday at 6:29 a.m. ET. Or in the more subjective clock of my mind, not a minute too soon. I like everything about spring except income taxes and the rude daylight-savings switch. Maybe there’s one more thing: I hate winter storms that have the audacity to dump on my driveway after the vernal equinox.
Fortunately there’s wine. It can help ease the tax-form burden (four out of five accountants I’m familiar with recommend it), and it’s been known to change the weather, indoors if not outside. Especially when that wine is grassy, grapefruity, zesty sauvignon blanc, the snow melter you can imbibe.
Various cultures have their vernal-equinox rituals. I gather it’s a custom in certain circles, based on an ancient Chinese parlour trick, to balance an egg on its end. Some people have been led to believe one can accomplish this only when the sun crosses the celestial equator. That’s bogus. You can do it any time – without much trouble if you possess steady hands – thanks to the egg’s rough shell. I did it with no sweat earlier this month, after a glass of wine, no less, and posted a photo of the mesmerizing feat on my Twitter feed.
More importantly, I discovered that this egg-yoga-pose exercise is more enjoyable when you combine it with my own vernal-equinox custom, which is to crack open a bottle of sauvignon blanc. (Note to egg-balancing druids: The cork may not be easier to extract when the sun crosses the celestial equator but the wine tastes better than it did in January; I’ll report on screw caps after next Monday.)
What follow are a few representative examples of sauvignon blanc styles from around the world – from lean and elegant Sancerre to high-watt, tropical, grassy New Zealand “savvy” to barrel-matured Bordeaux blanc and a few in between. Put your smoothies away for now, yoga people; this is another way to drink your fruits and vegetables.
Spy Valley Envoy Sauvignon Blanc 2014, New Zealand
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $29.95
Spy Valley, named after a nearby U.S. communications monitoring station, delivers a new, trendy take on New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Based on Bordeaux grape clones, this premium bottling was fermented and matured in wood, in contact with yeast sediment, for 11 months prior to bottling. Not your typical grass-and-grapefruit grenade rushed to market after a brief period in stainless. Light-medium bodied, it’s bright and grassy enough to betray its national origin, to be sure, with zesty citrus and crisp peach in the foreground. Yet the wine whispers with vanilla from the oak contact, which also supplies a mellow centre of gravity. By the way, the winery sells this on-site for $29.90 (N.Z.), which at the time of this writing was $27.81 in our dollars. We’re getting it for a steal given Canada’s supposedly punishing liquor markups. Are there spies involved? Available in Ontario.
Le G de Château Guiraud 2015, France
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $26.95
Located in Bordeaux’s Sauternes appellation, Guiraud is famous for its first-growth sweet white wine, produced from a mix of sémillon and sauvignon blanc grapes. This one, called Le G, relies on the same varieties, in a 50-50 proportion, but it’s dry. And it’s terrific. The classic dry-Bordeaux-blanc blending model reveals how sémillon can add flesh to sauvignon without robbing the latter of its bright character. Guiraud fermented and then matured the wine for seven months in oak barrels, adding soft texture and chewy depth. Medium bodied and oily, it shows juicy peach and tropical fruit along with sémillon’s telltale lanolin, waxy essence. Available in Ontario in select LCBO stores.
Domaine des Fines Caillottes Pouilly-Fumé 2015, France
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $26.95
Here’s a sauvignon from the Loire’s most prominent appellation after Sancerre. Silky yet properly crisp, this Pouilly-Fumé’s got everything in the right proportion – green apple, grapefruit, lemon zest, grass and stones. Subtle and structured. Available in Ontario at the above price, $24.30 in Quebec.
Jean-Max Roger Cuvée Genèse Sancerre 2015, France
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $27.95
Classically elegant sauvignon blanc from the grape’s grand appellation, Sancerre in the Loire Valley. This displays delectably satisfying mid-palate weight and softness without resorting to excessive residual sugar. The flavours hint at lemon, grass and crisp peach, with a whiff of flint in the mix. Available in Ontario.
Robert Mondavi Napa Fumé Blanc 2014, California
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $22.95
More than a few Americans in the 1960s recoiled at (badly grown) sauvignon blanc’s vegetal essence. Robert Mondavi found a way to get them drinking. He fermented the grape in oak to mute asparagus and grassy notes, adding a cosmetic layer of vanilla. And he avoided the name sauvignon blanc, dubbing his creation “fumé blanc,” which borrowed something from hoity-toity Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire. Many followed his lead and established a new wine category. The 2014 is light-medium bodied and almost creamy, with flavours of melon, pear and green apple along with whispers of vanilla and spice. The oak influence is subtle and well-handled, just enough to show the vegetables the door. Available in Ontario at the above price, $22.99 in British Columbia, $22.95 in Quebec, $24.99 in Nova Scotia, $30.27 in Newfoundland, $26.29 in Prince Edward Island.
Therapy Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, British Columbia
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $19.99
Look at the vintage date. This barely had time to become wine before it was corralled into bottle. But that’s the point with some sauvignon blancs, like this crisp, clean example, harvested Sept. 6, 2016. Trap the freshness in before it’s gone. In that sense, it follows the classic model of Marlborough in New Zealand. Yet there’s not much grass in this glass thanks to a brief, prefermentation soak with enzymes designed to reduce herbal characters. The fruit is grapy – as in fresh grape must – and also hints at red apple and lemon zest. Naked wine – at an admirably low 11.5-per-cent alcohol, too. Available direct through www.therapyvineyards.com.
Perez Cruz Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Chile
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
Lean yet flavourful, with an expressive aroma that settles down slightly upon first sip. Here’s a classic example of Chilean sauvignon blanc at a fair price, with bright grapefruit and dried-grass greenery rather than, say, boiled asparagus. More subtly, it shows notes of lemon and jalapeno, too. Available in Ontario.
Rustenberg Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2015, South Africa
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $14.95
The sprawling and pastoral Rustenberg estate has been around since 1682 and in recent decades supplied the backdrop to various film sets, including National Geographic’s Battle of Gettysburg. (The American Civil War in South Africa?) But wine is the star here. The 2015 Stellenbosch sauvignon blanc features an almost sweet, slightly oily centre thanks to ripe berries and lees aging, with nuances of tropical fruit and lemon. A sauvignon blanc for those who find the Loire or New Zealand too racy. Available in Ontario at the above price, $13.49 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta.
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