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A Sauvignon Score
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 6, 2011
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Quivira, Dry Creek Valley (California) Sauvignon Blanc, Fig Tree Vineyard, 2010 ($18):  Because I have been so disappointed in California Sauvignon Blancs in recent vintages -- their sweetness, and a bitterness that seems to come from their high alcohol are my main issues -- I taste them at every opportunity.  Maybe this one will buck the trend, I say to myself as I open each bottle from another winery or another vintage.  And last night I scored:  This Quivira Sauvignon Blanc is dry and crisp and has plenty of delicious, delightful varietal character.

Quivira is a well-respected winery in Dry Creek Valley that farms most of its vineyards using biodynamic practices.  Zinfandel is Quivira’s flagship wine, and that grape occupies 40 percent of the vineyards.  Sauvignon Blanc is Quivira’s number two wine, accounting for 20 percent of the vineyard land; the Fig Tree Vineyard lies at the confluence of Dry Creek and Wine Creek, where the gravelly soil promotes less tropical fruit character in the wine than is typical of Dry Creek Valley.

When I blind-tasted this 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, I thought that it might be a Loire Valley wine, maybe a Sancerre, because of its very high acidity, its strong mineral notes, and its stylistic divergence from mainstream California and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines.  In fact, Quirvira winemaker Hugh Chapelle describes the aroma of his Sauvignon Blanc in this vintage to be “…strikingly similar to the wines of the Loire, with a notable, yet mild, grassiness reminiscent of ‘fresh hay’.”

Appropriately for California, this wine also has plenty of fruity aromas and flavors.  The nose is penetrating and suggests--in addition to a chalky minerality and fresh hay--fresh lime, delicate fresh herbs, and a subtle floral note, which Chapelle attributes to the small amount of the very aromatic Musque clone in the wine.  When you taste it, if you have just opened the bottle, you might notice a prickle of CO2, which elevates the perception of acidity, crispness and dryness in the wine.  Flavors of lime, fig, mineral, and herbs are concentrated and so very refreshing.  Surrounding the wine’s steely backbone of high acidity is a silky texture that softens the taste, even as the acidity and crispness hang in there.  The effect is one of richness and leanness in the same wine.  On the finish, you can still taste the minerality, the citrus and the herbal notes.

The utter absence of any toasty or smoky aromas and flavors suggested to me that this wine had fermented in stainless steel.  Actually, some of the juice -- less than 20 percent of it -- fermented in neutral barrels of French oak and acacia wood.  The wood-fermented component probably accounts for the soft element in the wine’s texture, as does the 13.8 percent alcohol, which is low by today’s standards but enough to contribute some richness to the wine.  A staggered harvest, with some grapes picked early and some picked at fuller maturity, probably also contributes both to the richness and the crispness of the wine.  Lack of malolactic fermentation factors into the crisp acidity and vibrancy of flavor.

Serve this wine very cold to accentuate its leanness or less cold to enable its richness.  It’s great with goat cheese and I bet it’s also terrific with a seafood salad with a dressing is not very acidic.  Grilled fish or grilled chicken breasts would also be great accompaniments.

89 Points