The Villa Maria sauvignon blanc remains classic New Zealand white wine — and a more than fair value
When the blog was new, so was New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and the Villa Maria was among the best – and it cost just $10.
Those days are gone. New Zealand is acknowledged as the leader in sauvignon blanc, and even the French copy the style – lots of citrus, usually grapefruit, and little else for wines costing less than $15. But the Villa Maria remains consistent, quality wine. And if it isn’t $10 any more, it does offer more for your dollar than the shelves and shelves of cheaper monkey-labeled, bay-themed bottles.
The Villa Maria sauvignon blanc ($12, purchased, 12.5%) offers classic Kiwi style, sitting just a notch below the two I think are the best, Jules Taylor and Spy Valley. Yes, there is lots of grapefruit (more white than red), but the wine also has the three flavors all well-made wine should have regardless of price – the grapefruit in the front, some sort of white stone fruit in the middle, and a refreshing, clean stony finish.
Highly recommended, and a bargain for anything less than $13.
The Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is entry level white wine that shows what a top-notch producer can do for $10
Michel-Schulumberger is a top-notch California producer that still makes entry-level wines – a wonderfully old-fashioned approach that has gone out of style thanks to premiumization and California real estate prices. I’ve praised the $15 red blend, and the Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc is just as well done.
The Michel-Schlumberger sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is varietally correct and well-made California sauvignon blanc. It doesn’t taste like it came from New Zealand or was tarted up with oak or sugar to get a higher score or to impress a focus group. It’s just what it should be for a wine at this price: Fresh and clean, with that tell-tale grassy aroma that earmarks California sauvignon blanc, some lime fruit in the middle, and a bit of minerality on the back.
How does the winery do it? This isn’t a $50 estate wine; rather, it’s a California appellation, where the grapes come from the less expensive parts of the state and the winery crafts something that’s worth buying and drinking for $10. Would that more producers still did this.
The Line 39 sauvingon blanc is a $10 California grocery store white that has remained dependable for years
If more grocery store wine tasted like the Line 39 sauvignon blanc, the Wine Curmudgeon wouldn’t get nearly as many emails and comments from blog visitors bemoaning availability.
This vintage of the Line 39 sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is a little more disjointed than previous efforts; that is, all of the parts don’t fit together as neastly as they have in the past, and the wine has some rough edges. Having said that, it is still California-style sauvingon blanc – a little grassy aroma, some citrus fruit (lime, perhaps, but not grapefruit), and a clean and refreshing finish.
In our California sauvignon blanc hierarchy, the Line 39 fits below Ryder and Wente – not quite as layered as either of those, but that’s OK since it’s a couple of dollars less. If it’s not quite up to the $10 Hall of Fame quality of past vintages, it’s still a fine value.
This is wine for roast chicken thighs marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and rosemary, as well as something to drink when you get home from work and feel like a glass to soothe the rigors off the day.
The Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc reminds us that California can still offer delicious cheap wine that offers quality and value
Regular visitors here know how despondent the Wine Curmudgeon has been the past three or four months, what with rising wine prices, decreasing wine quality, and an increasing amount of foolishness from the wine business. And then, from out of nowhere, the Ryder Estate sauvignon blanc arrived.
This is California wine at its best, and something we don’t see much these days. It offers quality and value, as well as professional winemaking to make those happen. It’s true California sauvignon blanc, and not tarted up with sweet grape juice, flavored with fake oak, or a New Zealand sauvignon blanc knockoff. It’s varietally correct and delicious – fresh, grassy, stony, a bit of citrus and a hint of tropical fruit, and much more balanced than I expected or that we usually see in sauvignon blanc at this price.
The Wente sauvignon blanc is a California white wine that speaks to terroir and quality
The Wente sauvignon blanc is a top-notch California white wine that’s widely available – even in some grocery stores. So why has it been seven years since it appeared as the wine of the week?
Blame it on the wine business.
Pricing, for one, is incredibly screwy. The suggested retail price is $18. It’s $16 on wine-searcher.com, $15 at wine.com, and as little as $11 in Dallas. Given that I try to keep the wine of the week at less than $15, and preferably $10 to $12, how do I decide what the real price is so I can use it?
This time, though, quality wins out. The current vintage of the Wente sauvignon blanc (sample, 13%) is classic California sauvingon blanc, the kind of wine that speaks to terroir but has been shunted aside in the rush to make everything taste like a New Zealand sauvignon blanc grapefruit.
The Wente is so far removed from New Zealand — and even some French sauvingon blancs – that many people won’t believe that’s what it is. But that’s exactly what it is, in all its grassy aroma glory – the smell of a freshly mowed lawn. It’s crisp and refreshing, but not simple, and there is just enough citrus flavor (lemongrass?) to hold the wine together.
Highly recommended, and areminder that not all wine has to taste alike –and that it’s not supposed to taste alike.
The CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc, a long-time grocery store staple, is easily the cheap wine find of 2018
The CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc ($7, sample, 12.6%) is a grocery store wine that I have been trying to use as a wine of the week for years. But it has never quite been up to the challenge.
Until this vintage. Somehow, despite all the horrific cheap wine news this summer, the CK Mondavi sauvignon blanc is well-made, varietally correct, and worth more than $7. Score a victory for value and quality in these dark, dismal times.
There is nothing fancy about this California white wine, which is made by the other Mondavis – the company started by Robert’s brother Peter and run by Peter Jr. Look for lots and lots of white grapefruit, with maybe a certain something or other that tastes sort of pleasant in the back.
But it’s crisp and refreshing and delivers infinitely more value than many wines that cost two or three times as much. In this, it’s easily the cheap wine find of 2018; drink it well chilled on its own or with salads, chicken, and other warm weather food.
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame, but with this caveat: Quality control has been so slipshod for so many cheap wines this vintage that I can’t guarantee that the bottle you buy will taste like the bottle I got as a sample. But at $7, it’s worth the try.
Fourth of July wine 2018: Four bottles to enjoy to celebrate the holiday
No weekend this year to celebrate the United States’ 242nd birthday. So we’ll make do with Fourth of July wine 2018 for the middle of the week. As always, keep our summer wine and porch wine guidelines in mind: Lighter, fresher wines, even for red, since lots of oak and high alcohol aren’t especially refreshing when it’s 98 degrees outside
Consider these Fourth of July wine 2018 suggestions:
• Justin Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($15, sample, 13.5%): This California white is one of Justin’s best sauvignon blancs in years — very California in style, with the grassy aroma, crispness, and just enough lemon/lime to be noticeable. Highly recommended
• Pierre Rougon Rose 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This French pink from Provence is solid and dependable — a steal at this price. Look for barely ripe cherry and some earthy minerality. Highly recommended. Imported by Vinovia Wine Group
• Chateau Haut Rian 2015 ($13, sample, 13%): This French red blend from Bordeaux (about two-thirds merlot) isn’t overpriced, which makes it worth buying regardless. Throw in full red fruit and soft tannins, and you have an ideal summer red. I just wish it was a little funkier and old-fashioned. Imported by Wines with Conviction
• Mumm Napa Cuvee M NV ($20, purchased, 12.5%): Mumm, the French bubbly house, makes this in California; hence the much more reasonable price. Plus, you can buy it in some grocery stores. Look for crisp and green apple and not quite ripe pear, and tight, crisp, bubbles. Very well made, and always enjoyable.