Sauvignon Blanc

Written by Matthew DeBord on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

Andrea Immer, you see, was
until recently the sommelier at Windows on the World. She’s probably the
brightest young thing in wine right now, possessed of that defining characteristic
of wine writers under 50: a snarky disregard for received wisdom. Her stuff
is short on lore, long on frisky, distinctive opinion (her signature wine word
is "animal," by which I guess she means a savage, lusty quality–wine
that can’t be domesticated). Like every other guy my age, I don’t
really look forward anymore to Esquire each month, but I do pick it up
for a regular dose of Immer; she contributes a column.

Andrea Immer is also a total
wine fox, a wine minx. I learned this a couple years back when she cohosted
a painful Food Network show called Quench, during which she, in all her
compact foxiness (a petite woman, she exudes a chipmunky bravura all out of
proportion to her demure stature), and an amiable doofus of a cohost (the milquetoast
has since returned to liquor-industry limbo) would evaluate booze and anoint
urban imbibatory trends for the parched denizens of basic cable. The show was
a mess, but Immer was cute as the goddamn dickens.

Needless to say, I have
a crush on Andrea Immer. I’d like to get smashed with her on a bottle of
Barolo and see where it takes me. Sheer fantasy, of course–if my info is
reliable, she’s contentedly married. Way to go, Andrea. Boo-hoo for me.

But I still think she’s
ripping me off.

I think this because she
endorses almost exactly the same wine ethic as I do. Do not be cowed by the
big French labels, she argues. Do not genuflect before wine snobbery, she insists.
Rip the tastevins from around the necks of the oenophilic mandarins. Drink good
wine every day, and do not feel that you must spend, spend, spend to do so.
Work the $15-$40 range. Choose sturdy blends instead of overhyped varietals.
Steer clear of rotgut chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Wallow in pinot noir.
Remain loyal to producers who come through year after year. Furthermore, in
October’s Esquire ("Wine 101," the piece is called–an
Immer primer), she’s all over a style of wine with which I have closed
out the summer: sauvignon blanc.

Sauvignon blanc is the dry
white wine that foes of chardonnay–or more accurately, foes of the chardonnay
craze–like to boost. It tends to be a superior wine at a lower price
(decent chards below $30 are rare, but good sauvignon blancs under $15 are common).
It’s a marvelous food wine, especially with default summertime cuisines,
with grilled chicken or fish. It’s refreshing, acidic, but not as light
as, say, pinot grigio. There’s usually a bit on oomph lurking in its pale-gold
shimmer. In France, it’s what they make Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume out of.
Unfortunately, there is also one very significant flaw that has caused some
wine writers to dismiss it: weediness. Bad chardonnay, they argue, can be like
overoaked pineapple syrup, but at least it doesn’t taste like you’re
gulping a mouthful of grass. Beyond weediness, there’s also an aging issue:
sauvignon blanc simply doesn’t hold up well. The ’95 Joseph Phelps
I sampled for this piece was an untrammeled disaster–the defining flavor
was that of grapefruit rind. Sharp. Creamless. Wizened. Awful. Everything else
was ’97 or ’98, however, and they were, for the most part, delightful.
So two good rules of thumb for sauvignon blanc purchasing are (1) buy young
and (2) drink immediately. And be wary of oak–barrel-aging that frequently
ups the price with no discernible improvement in the wine’s character.

When I sit at home by myself
and swill wine for these columns, I usually take notes, then later strive to
transform them into besotted personal narratives. This time, however, I thought
I’d stick a little closer to the notes themselves. My reasoning? Tasting
notes can be extremely useful if you drink a lot of wine and are apt to forget
specifics while retaining impressions. A glimpse, then, of my world. These are
fairly simple notes. I have three categories: color, nose, taste. The first
two are often perfunctory: most sauvignon blanc is pale gold, give or take a
degree of depth, and most of it smells floral, herbaceous or vegetally raw (some
wine writers maintain that the aroma is what it’s all about, but I don’t
agree). "Floral, floral, floral"–that’s all I have on nose
for six sauvignon blancs. Ditto color: "very pale yellow/gold"; "slightly
deeper gold." Sure, color and nose are important, but let’s
be honest, the real action is on the tongue. I’ve yet to drink a wine whose
aroma or hue offered anywhere near the complexity of its sizzle on the tastebuds.
Yes, this brands me as a vulgarian, but fuck it–in some matters, I like
to cut to the chase.

So, the ’98 Sterling
Vineyards "North Coast" ($13)? "Excellent finish, lingering,
durable, like a chardonnay without the drawbacks, good acid balance, the smooth
finish–whiskey smooth–is exquisite." The aforementioned Phelps?
"TOO SHARP–almost tannic, if such a thing can be instilled in a white…grapefruit…could
be creamier…oak isn’t strong…" My take on one of Immer’s
cheap sauvignon blanc picks, the ’97 Casa Lapostolle from Chile ($10)?
"Melons, creamy texture, but not a great finish, flat, short, you really
have to work your tongue with your cheeks to keep the finish going…you want
buttery vanilla, but it doesn’t develop…slightly sour if not chilled

Here’s what I began
to desire as I worked my way through these sauvignon blancs: a wine halfway
between a light Italian white and a big California chardonnay–but exactly
halfway between. Not a pumped-up pinot grigio, nor a pseudo-chard. If oaked,
young oaked, and light on it. And I found a winner: the ’97 Firestone Vineyard
"Santa Ynez Valley" ($10). The price is right, the weeds are absent
and the texture is rich enough to stand up to just about anything you’d
throw on the barbecue between June and September. The key with sauvignon blanc
is to avoid expectations–grand expectations, at least. You can drop $13-$14
on the ’98 Sterling "North Coast," the ’98 Groth or the
’98 Morgan (this last benefits from eight months in French oak), but merely
for variety’s sake, for some slightly more art-directed labels. Otherwise,
Firestone is your grill wine. It is what it is. Your champ. Your warm-weather
fail-safe. Buy a case.

Now back to Andrea Immer.
Obviously, she’s not ripping me off, but it’s aggrandizing to think
so. And of course she’s got the look and I, for the first time since I
can remember, have begun to find myself attracted to inaccessible media personalities.
Actresses, for the love of God. Wine minxes, but you knew that already. Chicks
on tv. I watched She’s All That on vacation last week and got all
slobbery over Rachel Leigh Cook. At a Shoney’s in Morgantown, WV, I spotted
a willowy lass with antigravity hooters who immediately put me in the mind of…Katie
Holmes from Dawson’s Creek. Impossible crushes, shameful, old-coot
crushes. Debauched imaginary pairings, the pastime of those resigned to lonely
lifestyles in small rooms with magazines and tv for companionship. Crushes are
what we resort to, as we fight holding actions against the stormtrooping demons
of our personalities, as we drink wine to disorient our anxieties. We translate
our crushes on people into crushes on wine, and excuse the pun. We crave the
crush. The crush forestalls depression, and we become junkies for the crush
because anything beats giving in to depression. Play golf, play tennis,
learn to fly-fish, drive a car–stave off the self-loathing, the perversion.
Dress up. Spend money. Start a feud. Concoct hobbies. Drink wine. Fall for a
girl who also drinks wine. Nurture the crush, while there’s still some
crush left in this last summer before all you are is older and feckless vanity
begins to drown you, a glass at a time.