The first hint I had that some California white wines could age came in 1986 when I was cleaning out my “wine cellar” — an old walk-in dairy refrigerator that kept all my wines cool year-around.
Far in back, under some boxes of Italian red wines, was a box containing several white wines I had misplaced. One was a 1973 Foppiano wine called Sonoma Fumé, a sauvignon blanc that probably was never intended to be aged.
That evening I grabbed a chardonnay to have with dinner and opened the Foppiano sauvignon blanc with every intention of determining its level of un-drinkability and pouring it out. I never opened the chardonnay that evening.
The Foppiano fumé, at age 13, was still excellent, even though it had taken on more of the herbs and tea-like spices that I later learned can develop when sauvignon blanc made with good balance is aged.
Since then I have seen many examples of sauvignon blanc that have aged gracefully and gained a lot, even though some have lost primary fruit. This grape variety is not naturally “floral” as much as herbal, and as it ages herbs can replace the fruit and make for a fascinating experience.
I have long known that some eastern Loire Valley sauvignon blancs (Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé) can be superb with age, but now I know some California and New Zealand versions can also be excellent, though different from when they were young.
Recently I tasted a 2015 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc that was better than it was on release, so I decided to revisit my old query: Does California sauvignon blanc age?
Testing this turned out to be a lot less expensive than I had thought. Most U.S. wine marketing people think consumers only want young white wines. So nearing the roll-out of a new vintage (2017 in this case), there is a strong push to sell off the prior vintage.
Since most wineries who have 2017s to sell now are promoting their ’16s, any sauvignon blancs from 2013, 2014 and 2015 still in retail stores are viewed as pariahs to be shunned.
Taking advantage of that, I was able to grab several bottles of older sauvignon blancs over the last month and try them for a lot less than full retail price.
Among the most interesting of these were the 2014 Tangent (Edna Valley), 2013 Grove Mill and 2014 Sacred Hill (both New Zealand), 2013 Kenwood (Sonoma County) and 2013 Presqu’ile (Santa Maria Valley). This latter wine is a bit more assertive than some people will appreciate. I loved it.
Indeed, as some of these wines have less primary fruit, they have taken on more herbal notes, in some cases smelling like green chiles, cilantro, lemon zest or fresh asparagus. But none of the wines showed that hated “canned green bean” smell, which once was associated with cold-climate sauvignon blanc.
I’m not suggesting wine lovers intentionally age sauvignon blancs. There are far too many risks and potential drawbacks to such a strategy. But if you should see an older sauvignon blanc that was properly stored on a retail shelf or closeout bin, and the price is discounted, I see little risk in trying a bottle.