Sauvignon Blanc


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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 down...."


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.


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