THE YEAR'S BEST
  Each issue Wine & Spirits focuses on one variety or group of related wines and selects the ten best wines in that category for the year.

August 2001

Over the last twelve months, Wine & Spirits tasted 142 Sauvignon Blancs. The following wines received the strongest praise from our critics. A list of all sauvignon blancs tasted, with the recommended wines highlighted, is included with subscription copies.

Sauvignon Blanc
93 I Martinelli $15
1998 Russian River Valley Martinelli Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

Martinelli's '98 expresses the cool ocean influence of the Russian River Valley in balance with distinctive winemaking. There's a firm contrast between bright, shining fruit and smoky oak — imagine a Sancerre with oak. The flavors of lemon, lemongrass and litchi hold a graceful, natural acidity, a structure that tightens the fruit flavors even as it lifts their complexity out of the wine's darker tones. This is not for everyone, however; no longer a current release, its older, mature style split our panel, the only '98 sauvignon we recommended here. Martinelli Winery, Windsor, CA
 

 
93 I Mason $16
2000 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Tight when first poured, this feels intensely concentrated and firm with a direct, green grape freshness. With air, rose-oriented floral notes develop in the aroma and a fresh lemon flavor builds alongside a lasting mineral character, both tart and mouthwatering. All the elements are so completely integrated that the wine can offer a plush texture while the flavors maintain a tight focus and a wide-open airiness. That may sound like a contradiction, but it doesn't taste or feel like one. Try it with hamachi kama, or a grilled tuna steak. Mason Cellars, Oakville, CA
 

 
93 I Preston $16
2000 Dry Creek Valley Estate Reserve Hartsock Sauvignon Blanc

Lime and quince flavors fill out the palate with a lightness and lift, and for all the wine's flavor concentration, it comes across clean and clear as rainwater with a spritz of lime. It's direct and fresh, striking a natural balance of lasting flavor that never feels heavy. It will sparkle with a plate of geoduck clam sashimi at Great Eastern in San Francisco, or a dozen cherrystones on the half shell at the Oyster Bar in New York. (1,300 cases) Preston Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
93 I Rochioli $22
2000 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc

A piercing scent of ripe gooseberries announces this fruit-driven sauvignon, a powerful white wine that holds its focus straight through. The ripeness doesn't turn to sweetness, instead contributing a creaminess, the texture enriched and smoothed by oak aging (30 percent was aged in seasoned French oak) while the oak avoids any direct flavor influence. It feels like a fattened Pouilly Fumé, built for rich foods — seared scallops would pick up on the leesy mineral tones of the wine's final taste, blanquette de veau would build on its creamy texture. (2,470 cases) J. Rochioli Vineyards, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
92 I Rancho Zabaco $16
1999 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Full textured yet refreshing, this sauvignon shows the best of the Russian River Valley's potential coolness and grace. Though texturally pleasing, it doesn't offer much flavor until the end, where fresh pear and a sharper, quince-like fruit extend into a long finish. With all its tightly packed fleshiness, this young sauvignon is a fine counterpoint to thick-cut halibut or tuna steaks fresh off the grill. (1,851 cases) Zabaco Vintners, Healdsburg, CA
 

 
91 I Chateau Potelle $14
1999 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Potelle's '99 offers a sophisticated layering of flavors, each set forth with a bold stroke. The first scent is sharp as a blade of green grass, then oak enters with a richness to nearly overwhelm that green fruit, followed by an earthiness that adds complexity to the fruit character and builds on the fleshiness of the texture. Chateau Potelle, Napa, CA
 

 
91 I Chateau Ste. Michelle $14
1999 Columbia Valley Horse Heaven Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

The nut-meat scents of oak make the first impression, then fruit comes up to meet and marry the oak in complex ways — apricot essence, bitter orange marmalade, nectarine skin, the flavors wrapped in a gripping acidity. It's a white with intriguing structure, graceful with a buttery oyster stew. Chateau Ste. Michelle, Paterson, WA
 

 
91 I Stag's Leap Wine Cellars $20
1999 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

There's a green peppercorn and sage-like spice that carries through this firm, mouthwatering sauvignon, adding complexity and depth to the flavors of green melon and fresh pea shoots. It's lively and immediately appealing, a lift to sole meunier or other delicately flavored fish. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Napa, CA
 

 
91 I Voss $16
1999 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

This is not shy, dense as it is with grapey fruit and highly fragrant aromas that the winemaker claims result from aromatic yeast strains. Oak toast melds into the fruit tones, enriching the flavor in a high-toned, kiwi finish. Serve this with full-flavored game birds or other foods that are not shy. (3,400 cases) Voss Vineyards, Oakville, CA
 

 
90 I Greenwood Ridge $13.50
1999 Anderson Valley Sauvignon Blanc

When sauvignon gets this big and brash, it can lose some of its clarity and freshness, but this one manages to hold onto both. Fat and fleshy as it is, there's a firm acidity woven into the fruit to keep it clean. It's not particularly long in flavor, but the style is terrific with spicy Asian dishes. (1,350 cases) Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Philo, CA
 

 
90 I Duckhorn $20
1999 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

Right in the middle, this is sweet as super-ripe quince. Yet the initial aromas and the final taste is dry, with a mineral complexity. The length builds as it takes on air, making this one to savor into the evening with apples and cheese. Duckhorn Vineyards, St. Helena, CA
 

 
90 I Selene $24
2000 Napa Valley Hyde Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

Restrained when first poured, this sauvignon shows little more than its savory oak. Then fruit begins to come up with air, the light hint of grapefruit building to a firmer statement of lime. The finish is bracing, bolstered by a youthful, almost spritzy feel to the acidity. Enjoy this as the flavors mature over the next few years. (1,800 cases) Selene Wines, Napa, CA