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A Sauvignon Blanc at the Top of the Mountain
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jun 2, 2009
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Mayacamas Vineyards, Mt. Veeder -- Napa Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2006 ($30):  I have tasted many great red wines from Mayacamas Vineyards over the years.  The winery has a reputation among collectors for making seemingly immortal Cabernets.  I recall blind-tasting the Mayacamas 1975 Cabernet in 2000 and thinking it was a 15 year old, classified-growth Bordeaux; only when I could not find a Bordeaux vintage whose style and age fit the taste of the wine did I realize the wine was a sensational 25-year-young Cab from California.

Actually, Mayacamas makes white wines, too: about 2000 cases a year of Chardonnay and 600 cases a year of Sauvignon Blanc.  (The production level of the Chardonnay, meager as it is, is equivalent to that of the legendary Cabernet.)  On a quest to find really exceptional Sauvignon Blanc from California while researching California Wine For Dummies, I tasted the Mayacamas Sauvignon Blanc and was bowled over by the wine.  Compelling, original, powerful and unique in the world.

Mayacamas' vineyards are perched high in the Mayacamas mountains, at 1800 to 2400 feet in altitude.  The winery's objective is to make wines that preserve the intensity of the mountain-grown fruit and offer 'as much flavor, complexity and structure as grapes can deliver.'

The first thing that strikes me about this Sauvignon Blanc is its concentration of aroma and flavor: You can smell how concentrated the fruit character is.  The aroma is intense, penetrating and complex, with scents of lemon, fresh pineapple, honey and a piney note.  It also has delicacy; a gentle herbal perfume emerges with air.

The wine is very flavorful, with the honey and lemon aromatics of the nose and a stony minerality, as well as a note of grapefruit rind.  This is a full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc, with high acidity but so much weight on the palate that you wouldn't be tempted to call the wine 'crisp.'  Descriptors such as 'taut' and 'lean' suit it better, and within its leanness is concentrated flavor and rich texture.  The wine's rich flavor continues into the finish; I am tempted to time the duration of the finish, as some collectors do for aged red wines.

This wine is amazingly well-balanced  because it has 15.25 percent alcohol, and that alcohol is not at all over-the-top.  It was made entirely from Sauvignon Blanc and it was aged for eight months in American oak casks of 1000 gallons in size.  Nothing about the flavor of the wine suggests oakiness.

I called this wine unique in the world because it does not resemble prototypical Sauvignon Blanc from any other terroir.  It is far dryer than most California versions; more characterful and less flamboyant than New Zealand's wines; more focused and restrained than South Africa's; richer and less obvious than most Italian versions; more powerful and fruitier than the Loire Valley's many Sauvignon expressions.  Of all these Sauvignon Blanc prototypes, the Mayacamas is closest to Bordeaux, assuming a Bordeaux wine that has no Semillon to subdue its flavors, and soften its texture -- but even so it is riper and fruitier than that style .

Serve this wine in a large glass of the sort that you'd use for red Bordeaux.  I enjoy it with delicate fish in a slightly spicy cream sauce, and I am convinced that it will pair well with just about any fish, poultry, risotto, vegetable dish or cheese.  Drink it over the next two years or so.

93 Points