Though the nights have cooled the days are still hot here in Northern California and nothing goes better with the autumnal sun than a sublime glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  These wines can really hit the spot, offering the precise quantities of fruit, florals, acidity and balance.  Generally citrusy with taut herbal notes, Sauvignon Blancs are meant to be served chilled – though not ice cold.  Try alone or paired with tender shrimp, various hors d'oeuvres or spicy foods.

Sauvignon Blanc stems from the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions of France but these grapes grow very well around the world.  New Zealand made its reputation on the back of its crisp grassy Sauvignon Blanc, while many excellent examples of the varietal are produced throughout: California, Washington State, New York, Idaho, Virginia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Austria, and in Canada’s Okanagan Valley.  I personally love many delicious yet underappreciated Sauvignon Blancs produced right here in Napa Valley.

Often Sav Blancs are razor sharp and crisp while other winemakers blend in small amounts Sémillon and other white grapes producing Sauvignon Blancs that are more unctuous, creamy and full bodied.

Years ago Robert Mondavi decided to age his Sauvignon Blanc in oak, and called his wine Fume Blanc, meaning “smoky” in French – from the oak barrel toastiness.  This name change – both winemaking technique and shrewd marketing ploy – ended up working fabulously.  He created a marvelous wine while differentiating his product from the others.  (The names Fume Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc mean exactly the same thing)  But I’ll get back to Mondavi in a moment…here are a few excellent Sauvignon Blancs – many reasonably priced, where you can begin your road to discovery.

My new favorite Sauvignon Blanc is produced by Frog’s Leap, ($20) in Rutherford.  Wow, what a perfectly clean wine, delectable, curvaceous and refreshing.  This SB cuts through the clutter with enough body to complement Thai food or sushi.  Frog’s Leap’s Sauvignon Blanc is a wonderful, balanced, lovely wine.

Groth’s ($18) Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc produced by whole cluster pressing offers an exciting liveliness on the tongue and a delicate smoothness. The pale, hay colored Kelleher Vineyards ($28) from Yountville makes a downy SB that’s just right.  Round Pond Estate ($24) also produces a fine Sauvignon Blanc from its picturesque Napa vineyards.  Ziata, a small Napa producer offer a luscious, bold, stone fruit styled Sav Blanc ($28) that stands out.  The Hess Allomi Vineyard ($16) from Napa’s eastern Pope Valley exhibits tangy acidity while delivering the right amount of grapefruit. 

Alexander Valley’s Hanna Winery Sauvignon Blanc ($19) is light, pale and very refreshing indeed; ideal for sunny, warm afternoons – just like at their winery.  Another tasty wine is the Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc ($13.50).  With its blend of Alexander Valley and Russian River grapes showing rich topicality, Rodney Strong has produced a well crafted, balanced and affordable wine.

The Bernardus 2011 Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc ($18) invites us to taste its angular, citrus and slight berry notes combined with peach and other stone fruits.  Morgan’s 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($16) is another winner from Monterey.  An expert blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Musqué and Semillon grapes, this wine’s statuesque nose, balanced grassiness and the hint of sweetness.  The Morgan is one of the best around.

Many Sauvignon Blancs are coming out of Chile these days, and the quality keep getting better and better.  Try the Montes Limited Edition Sauvignon Blanc, ($17) a beautifully clear, crispy, fruity wine with a light yellow-green tint.  The Leyda Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Garuma ($16) offers a flinty, fresh style white wine drinkers will love

Cloudy Bay ($29), still one of the New Zealand category leaders – continues to delight with its grassy minerality and sharp, pale finish.  A classic.  And Mission Hill, in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley produces an enjoyable S.L.C. Sauvignon Blanc ($24).  Fruit forward with jasmine aromatics, this ample wine finishes strong.

Today the Robert Mondavi Winery I Block Fume Blanc, Napa Valley ($75) is perhaps the premier (and certainly the priciest) American Sauvignon Blancs/Fume Blancs produced.  Made from dry farmed grapes grown in Mondavi’s Oakville To Kalon Vineyard, this wine is unlike most other Sauvignon Blancs due to its intense depth of fruit, 10 months of barrel aging sur lie and dedication to the project.  This wine presents bold kiwi and peach flavors along with orange-blossom-honey notes, a slight minerality and a dash of oak.  Open this wine – and I guarantee you’ll never think of Sauvignon Blancs the same way again.

Try some Sauvignon Blancs – you may be surprised to find how much you enjoy these cool yet passionate wines.