Tuesday, December 21, 2004

And Now a Brief Wine Review

I wasn't going to review this wine. It's just a readily available selection I picked up as an "everyday" wine to go with tonight's dinner (Spinach Pie, thanks for asking).

But I've had some harsh words for California wine producers recently, so I thought I'd mention a mass-market wine from a California winery that is doing good things.

Rancho Zabaco gained a well deserved reputation as a terrific value for Zinfandel with it's "Dancing Bull," label. They have expanded that label into another varietal, which I have in front of me at the moment: Rancho Zabaco, Dancing Bull, Sauvignon Blanc 2003.

The reason this is worth mentioning? Two reasons actually.

The first is the absence of oak. All the harsh words I have to say about abusive over-use of oak in California Chardonnay goes double for California Sauvignon Blanc (sometimes called "Fume Blanc"). At least Chardonnay has the excuse that French White Burgandy, and certain elite Napa Valley labels pair oak with Chardonnay to make truly sublime wine (though the vast majority of lower-end imitators are plonk). Sauvignon Blanc's greatest expressions are the racy Loire Valley expressions from Sancerre, or Pouilly-Fume; and the exoticly flavored New Zealand bottlings from the Marlborough region - neither of which spend a moment in oak barrels. While I have had a couple of worthwhile oaked California Sauvignon Blancs - Caymus comes to mind as a winery which makes a worthwhile wine that way - the vast majority simply ruin this grape with their generous dollops of oak.

This particular bottling is oakless, and as a result you can actually taste the flavors Sauvignon Blanc grapes bring which oak mostly masks.

The second reason is that this is truly a value wine worth noting. It's around ten or eleven dollars, and is quite tasty. Difficult to find that in a similarly priced California Sauvignon-Blanc, with or without oak contamination. It has a nicely tropical/chili pepper nose, reminiscent of a New Zealand Marlborough. On the palate it also seems rather Kiwi-like, though with a much softer finish than is typical of those, and not nearly as herbal. It has a nice acidity that cuts across the palate.

With all the praise, I should note that this isn't really a special-occasion wine. But considering price and availability? This one is well worth noticing. Also a great wine to pick to gain an appreciation of this varietal if all you've had previously was full of "toasty oak" and "vanilla" flavors.


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