California Sauvignon Blanc - Where it's at is where it's at

Cracking the Code of California Sauvignon Blanc


With at least 3 distinct styles of Sauvignon Blanc coming out of California it’s sometimes tough to figure out what you’re buying. There are many producers emulating the wildly successful, full throttle style popularized by most of New Zealand’s producers. Unfortunately not many regions in California are particularly well suited to this ripe, yet vibrantly green style.

California has been most successful with the rich, round style popular in Bordeaux that relies on a combination of barrel aging and additions of other grape varieties to complete the wine. Many producers have embraced the beauty of their rich, fruity wines and have chosen to age the wines in stainless steel and bottle them without any additional grapes, thus preserving the unique notes that their Sauvignon Blanc produces.

Getting to know the traits of the various regions in California can help you decipher the riddle that is California Sauvignon Blanc. Each region has its own special attributes that may translate into a distinct style. Winemakers may try to impose their will on the wines but Sauvignon Blanc is an assertive grape, whose distinctive traits are difficult to obscure.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley's rather warm climate produces rich, soft wines that benefit from the added depth a bit of oak ageing contributes to the final wine. With so many estates here based on the Bordeaux model, it's no surprise that traditional old world techniques are favored.

Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2008
Packed with fresh pineapple, passion fruit, and lime flavors backed with hints of cactus, almond and a whisper of vanilla in a rich, linear style that is exceptionally well balanced and compellingly complex

Sonoma Valley

With its southern edge wide open to the San Pablo bay, Sonoma Valley’s rolling hills offer a moderate climate that allows Sauvignon Blanc to get fully ripe, losing some of it’s aggressive herbal character, yet retaining juicy acidity and crisp fruit flavors.

Kunde Estate Sauvignon Blanc Magnolia Lane 2008
Full of grapefruit and orange toned fruit with a touch of mineral cut and a sweet, floral inner mouth perfume, this is richly fruited yet the acids give this an inner strength that keeps this lively with everything well balanced.

Dry Creek Valley

In the North of Sonoma County lies the Dry Creek Valley, home of some of California’s finest Sauvignon Blanc.  The combination of moderate temperatures and gravelly, sandy soils produces brilliant wines with classic hints of gooseberry.

Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008
The exuberant nose gives up notes of gooseberry, lemon, pineapple and herbs that follow through on the palate. A nice mineral and acid driven snap leads to a finale of mouthwatering sea salt and lime tones.

If you are interested in reading more about California Sauvignon Blanc please find my complete article here.

Gregory Dal Piaz
Community Manager

Mentioned in this article


  • You specifically talk about the wine regions west of the Central Valley, but you recommend 2 wines from the Sierra Foothills. In order to be a comprehensive view of outstanding Califoirnia Sauvignon Blanc's, you should have also covered the Sierra Foothills region as well as Lodi. I've had amazing Sauv Blancs from both of those regions and I agree the Sobon one is really nice. You should also try the one from Ironstone. It has Lodi on the label and is a really nice crisp New Zeland style. It's a great value. I picked up a bottle from my local Raley's store and liked it so much I went to get more.

    Aug 25, 2009 at 5:22 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 237,214

    Thanks for the feedback Windsliver. Both the Shenandoah and Sobon bottlings only carried a California appellation for their wines so I'm not sure how much of the fruit comes from the Sierra Foothills.

    I recently did a tasting featuring the Wines of the Sierra Foothills. The email can be found here -

    Many additional wines were tasted that day and a complete wrap-up is here -

    I really was impressed with the Ironstone reds so I can imagine the quality of the Sauvignon Blanc. I'll look out for it.

    Aug 25, 2009 at 7:13 PM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,354

    I've been enjoying drinking Sauvignon Blanc this summer but I tend to get a little overwhelmed if I have too much. Does anyone have a recommendation for a bottle of complimentary wine I could buy to go along with the SB at a tasting?

    Aug 25, 2009 at 8:20 PM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,573

    Mark - you want a wine to have after a SB? This is at a dinner/event? Whats the food thats going with it?

    Aug 25, 2009 at 9:23 PM

  • Snooth User: kathyintex
    169321 165

    So, if I follow correctly - the three styles of CA SB are:

    1. Big, soft, ripe, lower acid, oak, with more tropical fruit

    2. Balanced - not as herbal/grassy, yet still retaining the acidity with full, ripe fruit tropical and citrus - use of both oak and steel

    3. Bracing acidity with mineral qualities, more grassy, herbal, heavy citrus notes, w/lime and grapefruit/gooseberry

    What would you correct or add to my understanding as listed above? AND what specific geographical areas/AVAs would you attribute to each of the different styles?

    Where would a Sancerre be in these styles - #3 or #2?

    Thanks for the assist - (studying for my CSW so reading and assessing all I can :0)

    Aug 26, 2009 at 9:58 AM

  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,354

    Philip, this isn't necessarily to go with food though I welcome food suggestions as well. All that fresh melon and acidity that comes with Sauvignon Blanc tends to be great to start with, but I'm curious if folks have suggestions for wines that would be complimentary for following up Sauvignon Blanc in a tasting.

    Aug 26, 2009 at 10:09 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 237,214

    Hi Kathy,

    That is basically correct though i would subtract the oak from the equation at first. Sauvignon Blanc grapes can produce juice that exhibits, broadly, one of the three basic groups of traits.

    Roughly they are:

    Warm climate - Round and lush with lower acids, grassy and more tropical and citrus fruit notes, but towards the pink grapefruit and orange end of the spectrum as is common throughout much of California.

    Moderate climate - Crisp and fruity, higher acid, more green flavors such as kiwi and goosberry such as one finds in New Zealand.

    Cool climate - Bracing and mineral with citrus notes that tend tot he lemon/lime range and are accompanied by mineral and herb notes. The classic profile for the Loire Valley

    These are not distinct classes of wines but rather reference points along a spectrum so wines can fall along rather broad swaths of the spectrum. For example Sancerre in that freak vintage 2003 generally exhibited warm climate characteristics though I usually find it to be closest to a Cool climate style.

    The introduction of oak into the equation changes certain aspect, and I am ignoring malo-lactic fermentation and soil types so this really is a very general discussion focused mostly on the fruit produced as opposed tot he wine made with that fruit.

    Oak is a tool that can contribute much to a wine, ranging from a sensation of sweetness, to smoky and spicy flavors, to a fundamental change in the texture of the wine.

    In general cool and moderate climate Sauvignon Blanc does not need or benefit from extensive oak ageing. Bordeaux is the obvious exception but it's also a blend and the richness added by Semillion is one region the blend is able to absorb the oak.

    On the other hand the warm climate wines are already fat and lush, the oak aging has a limited effect on the texture but those very ripe grape lose the contrast inherent in the fruit, that grassy or herbal quality, and can become a bit monotone. the spice and vanilla that the oak can contribute add complexity and welcome relief to this style of wine.

    I hope this is helpful and I appreciate your reading and thoughtful questioning of the article.

    Aug 26, 2009 at 10:18 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 237,214

    @ Mark

    Try a Gruner Veltliner. They can also have a vegetal aspect but are very different wines. In general they will work with the same dishes so at a dinner they can be very complimentary.

    An alternative would be to try a Semillion. It's the grape that is traditionally blended with Sauvignon Blanc in Bordeaux. You can experiment with making custom blends at the table.

    Aug 26, 2009 at 10:21 AM

  • Snooth User: TatesDude
    424078 6

    While no one is probably there as this is a dead trail I will shout into the night for your edification. You are insultingly wrong like so many moronic reviewers. Charles Wetmore(who was also a news person) had a vineyard in Livermore called Cresta Blanca. The label was puchased much later and moved north. He obtained his cuttings from Louie Mel, whose wife was a relative(sister?) of the Count(don't know if this is his exact title) of Y'quem. Louie Mel's vineyard is in Livermore next to the site of Murrietta Well. Livermore is the birthplace of SB in Calif just as it is the birthplace of about 80% of the chard(clones 4 & 5, 2a? and any other odd Wente clones) and about 50% of the Cab ( Concannon clones 7 & 8). In the 30's or 40's the then current Count?, visited his vines "chlidren". He came to Livermore, not Sonoma. Those of us who have an attachment to the very historic and quality rich region of the Livermore Valley, get tired of suffering in the shadow of our northern neighbors. Having consistently produced wine since 1883, we feel obliged to speak up.

    Mar 13, 2010 at 1:58 AM

  • Snooth User: garrydowen
    166115 182

    Moronic reviewers.....really, all I was looking for was a little insight and I have to read that kind of "input" wow thanks so much......NOT!

    Jun 05, 2012 at 2:08 PM

  • You are recycling a post that started in 2009? Sorry, but most of the 2008 Sauv Blancs are not available and probably past their prime. Get a new horse!

    Jun 07, 2012 at 5:53 PM

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