20-03-2019

Looking back on Sauvignon Blanc

My flight had arrived on time. This may seem a trivial concern but when flying Iberia’s budget line, Vueling, you prepare for the annoying but expect the worst. Sometimes that just means seats arranged for people who have a maximum height of 175cm when you’re at 193cm. Other times that means delays of 12 hours such as when they completely collapsed in the summer of 2018. So arriving-on-time Vueling is excellent Vueling.

Perhaps my arrival was painless because this wasn’t a vacation and I was flying to Venice but not actually going to Venice. There, at the arrivals gate was a fellow waiting to take me to Udine, the second city of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Northeast Italy. What was it that beckoned me to venture 130km away from such a striking destination as Venice? The answer: Sauvignon Blanc.

I had been invited to be one of the judges in the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon, an annual competition of Sauvignon Blanc that just saw its 10th edition hosted in this lovely little corner of Italy. The hosting region changes each year (next year will see its return to Loire) so it gives those who come and taste a cornucopia of Sauvignon Blanc (a record 1,010 entries this year from 26 different countries) for two days while exploring the region that surrounds the judging venue.

So this was the allure as it gave me the chance to taste wine that I rarely encounter in Spain–outside of DO Rueda and the few vineyards in Catalunya–and it allowed me to see a bit more of Italy which is always high on any list of goals in life. Of course those who know Sauvignon Blanc would probably still ask as to why one would want to taste just that wine for two straight days? Because while curiosity may have killed the cat for some reason, it makes wine a hell of a lot more exciting.

It’s easy to dismiss Sauvignon Blanc. I think the term “Cougar Juice” is often (and aptly) applied. A Master Sommelier matter-of-factly stated during a seminar I attended recently, “A monkey can make Sauvignon Blanc.” He was referring in general to the wines that are typically found from Marlborough, New Zealand but it is true that there’s little headache in making the wine. You pick when acidity is still high, you destem, add your yeast, and let it rip, bottling not long after it’s settled/stabilized a bit.

But that’s why tasting a wealth of wines from this (or any) grape is a worthy venture as to assume one thing or the other is foolish and most definitely, there was much variation in the 70 wines myself and the other four judges at my table went through in the two days and that was without seeing any Kiwi juice. Much of what was tasted was from Friuli-Venezia Giulia as the grape isn’t a newcomer there, being brought in mid-19th century by nobility. From that well-worn narrative, it was seen to be a “better” grape due to its French pedigree. Despite this anachronistic thinking (and the fact that Ribolla Gialla/Rebula is smashing good) the grape has endured and thrived with the majority of the 3,400ha of Sauvignon Blanc in all of Italy being in this region.

Admittedly, a great many of the wines in the competition weren’t that interesting. Fine, drinkable, and well-made but nothing of great note. This is definitely no commentary against Sauvignon Blanc as it’s a pretty regular occurrence that for all competitions, much of what is entered is average wine in the hopes of fishing a medal… somehow. I don’t understand this strategy as the judges are all well-trained in the world of wine and judging it so “basic wine in” will be “basic wine out”, but I digress.

There were of course winners, 24% more than the year previous, totaling 167 medals of the 1,010 wines. And France retook the lead as the highest-scored wine, knocking Germany out of the place it had held for the last two years. That’s pretty decent Cougar Juice and following were some of the wines I picked out and scored as notable.

WINES

Aquila del Torre - Primaluce 2015
Bruised yellow apple, bit of fig compote, chalky mineral notes, and hazelnut. Light oxidized touches that work to embellish the wine. Rich palate that carries lovely texture with the age of the wine.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%
93 2 Stars

Félix Solís Avantis - Analivia 2018
Light green apple and mint, green pea, waxy, soft fennel. Vibrant and crisp on the palate with green apple persistence in the finish.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13%
92 2 Stars

Lis Neris - Picol 2017
Lemon citric notes and peel, prominent toasted aspect, apple blossom, wet mineral notes. Wide on the palate with a medium plus acidity and long finish.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 14%
92 2 Stars

Martivillí - Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Crisp green apple, crunchy and mineral, with a light chalky base to the aromas and excellent complexity. Balanced on the palate, very pure with a long finish.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13% · 8EUR
92 2 Stars

Gutenberger Felseneck - Flavia Besta Lagen 2017
Structured with leafy fennel notes, light, delicate apple blossom. Rich and graceful on the palate with leafy herbal notes and excellent persistence.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13.5%
91 2 Stars

Castelvecchio - Sauvignon 2017
Muted white blossoms, light white pear, minor waxy and honey notes. Very crisp, lively acidity and great persistence with a touch of astringency.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13%
91 2 Stars

Domaine du Salvard - Cheverny 2018
Green apple compote, light touch of figs, leafy fennel notes, lightly mineral. Fresh citric palate, touch of tangerine, medium plus length.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13%
90 2 Stars

Karine et Christian Lauverjat - Moulin des Vrillères 2018
Soft yellow fruit, white peer, light herbal notes, fennel, mineral chalk. Full and balanced on the palate, good length and citric notes.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13%
90 2 Stars

Fruscalzo - Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Fresh lime peel and candied notes, light mineral aspect, underlying note of gooseberry. High acidity, fresh lime notes prevalent on the palate with a medium plus finish.
100% Sauvignon Blanc · 13%
90 2 Stars