Sauvignon Blanc.  Oak it and call it Fume Blanc and it is a different wine despite being the same grape. But even unoaked, the wine will be different from place to place.  Sancerre is popular among those who relish its minerality. But each year, multitudes of consumers announce their shared preference for the grassy citrus of New Zealand. And still others (though not as many) vote with their pocketbooks for the savory character of South Africa. California is a different story.  And so it goes.

Until you bump into Rochioli Vineyards, Russian River Valley grapes.  Sonoma, California. There are many wineries in Sonoma and throughout California that grow and vinify Sauvignon Blanc.  And I’ll admit I have some difficulty getting past Loire Valley wine being the benchmark for my Sauvignon Blanc palate. But then again, maybe that’s what so impresses me about Rochioli.  Because, somehow, he does.  He takes the best of the “old world” and the “new world,” merges them and creates a uniquely delicious product.

I met Tom Rochioli in 2012 during a visit to Sonoma.  We tasted. We talked.  And then he excused himself because he had “to go crush.”   And therewas the passion of “old world” Sonoma I came so much to admire, much of which began with Italian immigrants in the 1850’s who had a love of wine; a personal involvement.  I visited Rochioli in search of Pinot Noir.  It was my mission after spending time in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. And it was his Pinot Noir that bonded me to this vineyard. A wish fulfilled and one most perplexing given my Francophile bent.   

As years went by, I purchased and more leisurely tasted other of his wines.  Each varietal impressed. Each, however, impressed for the same reason: a balance, a see-saw of “old world” terroir and “new world” fruit but melded with nuances, with respect for suggestion vs. dominance, symphonies not concertos. And so it is with the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc.  Stronger on the nose and more assertive on the palate than a comparable Sancerre, Rochioli ‘s Sauvignon Blanc weaves together the minerality of Sancerre with tastes of New Zealand’s grapefruit and South Africa’s savory qualities. It’s all there but each note reserved; working in harmony as an essential contribution to the whole.   The wine becomes a woven texture of intermingled tastes.   

Grapefruit and lemon grass tease the nose.  A scent of pineapple and passion fruit offsets the citrus.  On   the palate: lime-crème.  I understand some critics are opposed to using “crème” as a descriptive but if you’ve ever enjoyed lemon-meringue pie, imagine substituting lime for that lemon under that meringue and you’ll appreciate the point.  Minerality brings the wine back toward an “old world” style.  Faint notes of grapefruit incorporate “new world” character.  Meyer lemon is subtle and palate cleansing. 

This is estate wine and that’s it’s beauty because Rochioli single-vineyard offerings are seldom available, being sold out almost immediately to “the list” upon release.  The estate wines are available retail.  No measure of insuring quality is skipped, however, in producing the estate label.  Fifty-five percent of the blend is from the original Sauvignon Blanc vineyard planted in 1959.  Twenty-nine percent is from the vineyard’s Clone 376 planting and the balance of sixteen percent is from Rochioli’s 31-year old hillside vineyard.   The wine is tank fermented at cool temperature to preserve freshness, aromatics and the varietal’s character and acidity.  What results is a precise wine, focused and intense while being balanced and integrated:  a delicious contradiction of sorts and a “Flying Wallenda” of balance.

At $34 retail, it may even be underpriced, but I wouldn’t tell them that.  Still, Rochioli’s grapes have long been sought after by people in the know.  In the nearby Dry Creek Valley AVA, David Stare of Dry Creek Valley Vineyard (who spent time in France) was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc there.  For his 1972 inaugural release of Fume Blanc, he sought out grapes from Rochioli.  In the 1970s, the Rochioli family was selling grapes to the Davis Bynum Winey and the Williams Selyem Winery.  But my favorite recollection goes back to a subsequent visit I made to Sonoma in October of 2014.  A representative from a winery sponsored a wine tasting.  It was held in the main room of the B&B in which I was staying and all the guests were invited.   She handed out a glass of wine to each guest and asked if anyone could identify the varietal.  I answered that it was Pinot Noir and then added I believed the grapes were sourced from Rochioli vineyards.  (correct on both counts).   It’s not that my palate is extraordinary.  It’s that Rochioli’s grapes are. 

Referring to the 2016 vintage, Wine & Spirits awarded this wine 95 points and included it in the “100 Best Wines 2017”.

Sauvignon Blanc is one of a few varietals that can pair well with green vegetables (like asparagus).  I enjoyed it recently with a soup I made of the same, followed by a simple platter of grilled shrimp and vegetables.  The acidity of the wine cleansed the palate nicely from the avocado with grated Watermelon Radish and played against the shrimp perfectly.   Then again, it does well all by itself (1)

……………………  Jim
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    (1) Seriously: Consider Sauvignon Blanc with Asian Style Chicken Salad.  Since it goes well with green vegetables, consider a salad of baby spinach with goat cheese (or just goat cheese). Oysters? Sure!  Even if you “Rockefeller” them.  Any delicate fish (like sole) is a natural.

Rochioli Vineyards and Winery:
ALC: 14.5%
Exclusive Agent: Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, IL.

The first Friday in May is International Sauvignon Blanc Day. 

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