Like a chef with guarded secrets, Richie Allen won’t disclose what makes his sauvignon blanc delectable.
Allen is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner, the Rombauer, 2015 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc at $24.
The Rombauer sauvignon blanc is a standout. It’s layered, vibrant and has good complexity. Its tangy notes of grapefruit and lime are measured with tropical fruit flavors. It’s refreshing and finishes crisp.
“We wanted to make a wine with fruit intensity and that is refreshing and balanced,” Allen said. “There’s fruit character, there’s sweetness, and there’s acid. You know when you get a ripe peach, and you just can’t stop eating it? It’s like that.”
Beyond the explanation of house style, Allen won’t reveal his winemaking secrets.
“There are winemaking techniques to capture certain fermentation flavors in sauvignon blanc,” he said. “I learned them in New Zealand, and they aren’t used in the U.S. I’m not sure I can say more than that. Sometimes a winemaker should keep a few closely guarded secrets up his sleeve.”
Of course when it comes to food and wine pairing, Allen is more than happy to share his favorite.
“It’s sauvignon blanc with ceviche and oysters,” he said. “And this is from someone who doesn’t even eat oysters. But I tried our sauvignon blanc with barbecued oysters on a recent day trip to the coast, and it was amazing. It really shows the power of a good pairing.”
Allen first fell in love with wine when he was in his early 20s during a trip to Amador County.
“I became incredibly curious and set out to learn as much as I could about it,” he said. “That led to a winemaking degree and years of working harvest after harvest, visiting as many wine regions and tasting as many wines as I could. It was a natural progression for me that really just grew out of passion.”
Allen, 37, studied winemaking and in 2013 graduated from Australia’s University of Adelaide. At Rombauer, he began with cellar work, and by 2013 rose to director of viticulture and winemaking.
The most challenging part of producing sauvignon blanc was getting the initial go ahead, he said. “It was convincing Koerner Rombauer it was a good idea. The Rombauer family has always felt it was important to stay focused, working with fewer varietals in order to master what we do in terms of quality. They weren’t necessarily looking to add another wine to the mix, but with time, we all came to see sauvignon blanc was a perfect complement to our existing wines.”
Allen said winemaking is a good fit because he finds the profession fascinating.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I’m very excited to get out of bed every morning go to work. I love every step of the process, from what happens in the vineyard to seeing the wine come off the bottling line. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Sauvignon Blanc
TOP PICK: Rombauer Vineyards
Rombauer Vineyards, 2015 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 14.2% alcohol, $24. ★★★★
This is a vibrant, layered sauvignon blanc with good complexity. Its tangy notes of grapefruit and lime are measured with topical fruit flavors. It strikes a great balance. Nice length. Crisp finish.
Pomelo, 2014 California Sauvignon Blanc, 13%, $10. ★★★: This unfussy sauvignon blanc has aromas of orange blossom, with passion fruit on the palate. Crisp, with a lemon zest finish. Approachable. Uncomplicated. Easy drinking.
Spottswoode, 2014 Napa County, Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, 13.9%, $38. ★★★★1/2: This gorgeous sauvignon blanc is a nod to the New Zealand style. Bright acidity, with notes of grapefruit, lime and a hint of jalapeno. Striking.
Murphy-Goode, 2014 North Coast “The Fume” Sauvignon Blanc, 13.5%, $14. ★★★1/2: This approachable sauvignon blanc is aromatic with notes of orange blossom, and on the palate, grapefruit, tangerine and a hint of lime. Tasty.
Flora Springs, 2014 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 14.2%, $25. ★★★1/2: This is a layered, California-styled sauvignon blanc, with aromas and flavors of grapefruit, melon and light toast. Lingering finish. Well crafted.