The Tasting Panel magazine

Tasting Panel October 2010

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FROM THE EDITOR Lose theLumber I had a completely different rant all set to go for this issue. Then I did a large Sauvignon Blanc tasting and I had to change the subject. Sauvignon Blanc has had a colorful history in the domestic wine industry. After Repeal, it was used almost exclusively to make a sweet wine disin- genuously known as “Sauterne [sic].” Then, in the late 1960s, Bob Mondavi reinvented the variety as a dry, oaked Chardonnay-wannabe he called "Fumé Blanc.” That’s where things stood for about a decade and a half. Then, in 1985, a bunch of plucky island dwellers changed everything; Cloudy Bay, the first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, arrived in America. The wine became an immediate cult sensation, and in the next few years a slew of crisp Marlborough wines arrived to show the locals how Sauvignon Blanc is supposed to be: fresh, edgy and taut with tangy acidity and lively flavors of citrus and stone fruits with maybe a little gooseberry thrown in. Most American winemakers took the hint and changed the way they make this wine. Today there are plenty of stellar domestic examples on the market. So why the rant? In the tasting I just did there were lots of nice, crisp wines, but there were a few made by winemakers who clearly didn’t get the memo—and they were the most expensive wines in the tasting. What went wrong? These benighted enologists took their crisp, lively wines and put them in oak. What were they thinking? Putting Sauvignon Blanc into oak is like throwing a tarpaulin over a Picasso, or playing your favorite concerto on a vuvuzela, or driving your Porsche at 15 mph or . . . well, you get the idea. All oak accomplishes is to dumb down the wine and take the pizazz and charm out of it. What besides a brain freeze would cause a winemaker to make such a dim-witted choice? Maybe he/she read somewhere that Sauvignon is sometimes put into oak barrels in Bordeaux. That’s true—although less and less so—but the circumstances in chilly Bordeaux are very different from those is sunny California. So, please, you guys, save the oak for Chardonnay or Pinot or your back- yard deck and leave the Sauvignon alone in its comfy stainless steel tanks. You can demonstrate what a brilliant winemaker you are with Cabernet or something else. And while you’re making changes, lose the corks and switch to screwcaps. PHOTO: CATHY TWIGG-BLUMEL

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