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Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc 2012
A warm inland area just north of Napa Valley, Lake County represents a new frontier for California winemaking. While Prohibition halted viticulture here just as it did in so many California regions, winemaking activity remained fairly insignificant for a few decades longer than others. Finally in the 1990s Lake County Sauvignon blanc—uniquely savory and fruity—earned the appellation a renewed reputation.
Lake County is comprised of a handful of unique American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
Recently the Red Hills AVA, located within the boundaries of the Clear Lake AVA, has become the focus of some of Napa’s more respected growers. Its notable volcanic and obsidian-based soils could be the source of California’s next best Cabernet Sauvignons. Andy Beckstoffer, a leader in recognizing prime Napa Valley vineyard locales, has already invested heavily in the area.
The High Valley AVA sits northeast of Clear Lake. This warm area boasts multiple soil types allowing growers a lot of flexibility and experimentation with grape varieties. While Sauvignon blanc is a mainstay, this zone excels with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, as well as other less common varieties like Barbera and Tempranillo.
A crisp, refreshing variety that equally reflects both terroir and varietal character, Sauvignon blanc is responsible for a vast array of wine styles. However, a couple of commonalities always exist—namely, zesty acidity and intense aromatics. The variety is of French provenance, and here is most important in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. It also shines in New Zealand, California, Australia and parts of northeastern Italy. Chile and South Africa are excellent sources of high-quality, value-priced Sauvignon blanc.
In the Glass
From its homeland In Bordeaux, winemakers prefer to blend it with Sémillon to produce a softer, richer style. In the Loire Valley, it expresses citrus, flint and smoky flavors, especially from in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. Marlborough, New Zealand often produces a pungent and racy version, often reminiscent of cut grass, gooseberry and grapefruit. California produces fruity and rich oak-aged versions as well as snappy and fresh, Sauvignon blancs, which never see any oak.
The freshness of Sauvignon Blanc’s flavor lends it to a range of light, summery dishes including salad, seafood and mild Asian cuisine. Sauvignon Blanc settles in comfortably at the table with notoriously difficult foods like artichokes or asparagus. When combined with Sémillon (and perhaps some oak), it can be paired with more complex seafood and chicken dishes.
Along with Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc is the proud parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. That green bell pepper aroma that all three varieties share is no coincidence—it comes from a high concentration of pyrazines (an herbaceous aromatic compound) inherent to each member of the family.