Great Grapes: Crisp Summer Wines

With summer now in full swing, Debbie Barker of the Bowdoin Class of 1980, has some warm weather wine advice and a secret to reveal.

Many of my friends are Chardonnay lovers. They relish the heavier style, and the oaky, buttery flavors of wines made from Chardonnay grapes. A contrarian, I know, but I love wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape.  I gravitate to the lively and crisp mineral and citrus tastes, especially on a warm summer evening. In the spectrum of white grapes, Sauvignon Blancs are heavier than Rieslings, but lighter than Chardonnays. These grapes are grown in cooler climates all over the world, but I think the best come from California, the Loire Valley in France (largely the Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé appellations) and the Marlborough region of New Zealand.

Debbie Barker '80

Now, I admit it, we’ve all run across terrible Sauvignon Blancs.  Some are bland and dull (think the jug Chablis our mothers used to drink!). Others tend towards a grapefruit taste, almost fizzy in character. I prefer medium-bodied Sauvignon Blancs. A note about taste: our tongues can identify four “tastes”:  sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. Sweet taste buds are at the front of the tongue, while sour and acidic flavors are tasted on the tongue’s sides. Sauvignon Blancs don’t need aging, so don’t worry about vintage year, or whether the wine has a cork or comes in a screw cap bottle. The prices of these wines are easy on the wallet, ranging from $9 to $25. Experiment with a few Sauvignon Blancs from your local wine shop to find your own style!

My favorite Sauvignon Blancs are Murphy-Goode from Sonoma County in California, Lucien Crochet Sancerre from the Loire Valley, and Thornbury from New Zealand. They all have a bright mineral taste and a nicely balanced body and flavor. Here’s a funny story:  in the early 1990’s California Sauvignon Blancs had not achieved broad commercial success. Maybe this was because Chardonnay was the white grape of choice of California growers, or because the French Sauvignon Blancs were known by other names. Don Carano, the owner of Ferrari-Carano Vineyard in Sonoma, California, had a great idea. He decided to sell his Sauvignon Blanc by the name “Fumé Blanc.” He thought that name sounded more French and sophisticated”¦and his sales took off!  So now you know-wines called Fumé Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are the same thing. And they are terrific to be drinking this season!

2 thoughts on “Great Grapes: Crisp Summer Wines

  1. Doug Collins

    Another refreshing grape that I came across recently is the Torrontes, grown in Argentina. It is a bit like sauvignon blanc but not as acidic and has a better bouquet.

    PS РI thought Robert Mondavi had claimed to be the originator of the name Fum̩ Blanc. Was it really Ferrari-Carano?

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