When I first moved to Napa, I was not particularly a fan of most Sauvignon Blancs that I came in contact with (unpopular opinion I know). I love the acidity of the grape, but the green and grapefruit flavors were too strong for my taste. However, I think it’s important to try new wines even if I am hesitant about the varietal. This philosophy paid off, and I was able to discover a whole new style of Sauvignon Blanc that I grew to love. Here are three SB’s that changed the white wine game for me.
Lillie – Larkmead Vineyards
Larkmead Vineyards was the first California producer to introduce me to this less-common style of Sauvignon Blanc. Their Sauvignon Blanc is called Lillie and prior to trying it, I had only experienced SB that was highly acidic, really green (think flavors of green grass and green bell pepper) and citrusy. This is traditionally the flavor profile that most Napa Valley producers lean toward, as do those from the Marlborough, New Zealand region. This style is very popular and prevalent, but for whatever reason it’s not the style that I personally prefer. For me, I prefer white wines that are more floral, round on the palate and have notes of stone fruit and honey instead of green apple, grapefruit and grass (probably why I like Chardonnay so much).
The Lillie is delicious. Light-bodied while still structured enough to hold up to rich dishes, this wine resembles more of the Bordeaux style of whites than the Marlborough. If you gravitate toward Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc, I highly recommend this wine. Larkmead even calls it a “Sauvignon Blanc that acts as a Chardonnay.” It has the same beautiful roundness as a Chard, but retains the classic SB acidity and balance, and just the right amount of those citrus fruit flavors without being overbearing. Quantity is limited and is only offered on an allocated basis or for purchase at the winery.
Illumination – Quintessa
Illumination truly lives up to its name. Crafted by winemaker Rebekah Wineburg, Illumination is the only white wine that Quintessa produces, and might be the only one that they need. Made predominantly from the Sauvignon Blanc Musqué clone, this wine is bright, light and truly well-balanced. The majority of the fruit comes from the Quintessa Napa Valley estate, yielding the perfect counterpart to the Quintessa Estate Red Wine.
I first tasted this wine at my UC Davis Viticulture and Enology alumni event back in December, where we tasted wines produced by fellow alumni. It was actually the third wine after a Napa Cabernet and Sierra Foothills GSM, and it held up beautifully against those two big reds. Not to mention, the label art is truly stunning and will impress any dinner party crowd. This wine is truly age-worthy and worthy of its cult following.
Knights Bridge Fairview and Pont de Chevalier Sauvignon Blancs
These two estate SB’s from the Knights Bridge Estate Vineyards in Knights Valley are both beautiful expressions of age-worthy Sauvignon Blancs. During my tasting at the winery earlier this spring, winemaker Derek Baljeu poured us the Fairview when overlooking that very vineyard on our estate tour. The wine is crisp, light and delicate, with the perfect balance of both fruity and floral flavors. I loved the wine so much that I bought both the 2018 and 2019 vintages to compare at home. When I shared these wines with friends later, everyone (a group of varying taste preferences) was equally as impressed and enamored with both bottles. This is definitely a wine you can use to convert someone who typically steers clear of Sauvignon Blancs.
All three of these wines have inspired me to discover more bold, age-worthy Sauvignon Blancs, and to be more open-minded when it comes trying Sauvignon Blanc in general. Fortunately, this style of white winemaking is growing in popularity in Napa and Sonoma, and I can’t wait to see what other producers bring to the market.