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Sauvignon Blanc: Vintage 2004

Perhaps you have noticed that the 2004 Sauvignon Blancs are hitting the market. Depending upon where they are from, some are being touted as being the result of one of the all-time fantastic vintages in years. So what makes a Sauvignon Blanc stand out from one year to the next?

Most fantastic winemakers will tell you that a wine is made in the vineyard.

In other words, you can’t turn terrible grapes into a fantastic wine. To get the best grapes, a winemaker will place a lot of work and experience into massaging the grapes to their optimum flavor. Irrigation, canopy management, thinning and careful timing are major factors. The name Sauvignon comes from the French word sauvage, which means wild, and wild is what the vines quickly become without careful management.

What else is needed? Well, you’ll need to be in the right place with your vineyard. The soil and micro-climate will place a stamp on your wine that’s often referred to as “terroir”.

All fantastic wines are terroir wines. Without the terroir influence, even an otherwise gorgeous wine is nothing really. Why? Because the beauty of what the grape can do is replaceable from region to region, but no one can mimic terroir. It’s unique. It is character as opposed to looks. The movie star compared to the swimsuit model. Fantastic Sauvignon Blanc wines come primarily from the Loire region of France (Sancerre and Pouilly Fume), the Styrian region of Austria, New Zealand, South Africa and California. But, it is when the influence of terroir comes into play that each region crafts the best of what can be made. A Sancerre Sauvignon done right will never be mistaken for one from New Zealand.

Next to terroir, the winemaker’s philosophy and taste play a major role. He will craft a wine accordingly, employing different vinification methods to make the desired balance between sweetness, acidity, alcohol, tannins as well as primary and secondary fruit flavors.

For the well-known Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc of New Zealand, “ultra-reductive vinification” is used. This means that the wine is made in a way such that it is exposed to as small oxygen during the process as possible. The result is a wine whose fruitiness nearly jumps out at you from the glass: huge bold notes of blackcurrant bud, the note most typical for this grape, announce themselves right up front. This process also results in wines that are not meant for long term cellaring, so drink them while they are still young and fresh.

In the Styrian region of Austria, a process of reductive (not ultra-reductive) vinification is used for the line of wines called Classic. The result is again wines that are very fruit-forward (though not as full-throttle as those from New Zealand), fresh, and meant to be loved while still young. Two brilliant examples to seek out would be the Sabathi Classic and the Jaunegg Classic.

The fantastic single vineyard Sauvignon Blancs from Austria, such as those from the Poharnig, Possnitzberg and Czamillonberg vineyards, are crafted more like those from the Loire region of France, using an oxidative vinification process; that is, allowing the wine to come in contact with more oxygen during fermentation. The wines are then aged in oak barrels of varying size, which also greatly influences the final result: wines that are fuller bodied, with more mineral, hay or herbal notes and less fruit, but with fantastic structure and depth and longer cellar potential.

Last but not least a vintage will leave its mark on a wine. Hot and dry or cool and wet, a year’s climatic conditions influence the grapes balance of acid, sugar and extracts. So what about these 2004’s?

In 2004 Austrian winemakers were lucky to see many of the climatic factors work in their favor, but they had to be on top of the grapes to not miss the boat. The diligent vintner who timed things just right was able to get that terroir into the glass, and the best examples are seriously exceptional wines. In the Loire region of France, 2004 brought wines that were very typical for the area. The Sancerre Sauvignon Blancs are bright and crisp, while those from the Pouilly-Fume appellation across the river are creamier, but still showing a bolt of acidity. New Zealand loved a bumper crop of fruit that shows clean, well-balanced and strong flavors.

Now is the time to hunt down some bottles from this vintage. Find some Classic Austrian or New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs to delight in right now, and buy some single vineyard or French examples to place down in your cellar. You will not be disappointed.

Emily Schindler is a wine importer based in Los Angeles. To read more of her wine writing, and to find the wines she imports and sells direct to consumers, visit winemonger.com winemonger.com

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