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Berger: Truths about sauvignon blanc

An otherwise respected wine writer has a problem with sauvignon blanc.

Beginning a decade ago and continuing to today, he has roundly and consistently rapped the grape and the wines it makes, calling it in various diatribes a dud and saying it makes wines that have nothing to say. It seems to be his one major hang-up with wine.

Confession: I was once as blind to the truth as he is. I once hated pinot gris in all its forms, and didn't mind saying so. It was clear that the grape usually has little to offer and that most attempts to make it more complex (like aging it in oak) are often a failure.

So let's bring in a third-party arbitrator here: chenin blanc. It is a simple grape and at its best (perhaps from the Loire Valley, perhaps from South Africa), it can make a delightful sipping wine without much fanfare.

But when you get to know any grape variety by lots and lots of tastings, and from various areas of the world, your opinions can change. Chenin blanc from great vineyards can make a great white wine. Visit Vouvray and see what I mean. And then taste older ones!

I now see pinot gris in a different light as well, and can make quality distinctions based on a number of factors. Same with sauvignon blanc.

So those who know only what they see on the surface of an argument, and don't dig further, are doomed to repeat the error of their ways. Where the sauvignon blanc hater has it wrong is in not seeing what it is and can be.

It's his never having thought it could be sublime, so his gut reaction to it is related to his prejudice.

Truth: Some sauvignon blancs are blah because they are made from poor-quality fruit. Sure, the aroma may be OK, varietally distinctive and all that, but the poor fruit eventually dooms the wine. This can happen with expensive wines.

Truth: Some sauvignon blancs are bad simply because the winemaking decisions were odd (to say the least!), even if the fruit was excellent. I have had many SBs that smelled great, but had the worst mid-palate or aftertaste due to what I'd charitably call curious decisions in the winery. This can happen with expensive wines.


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