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Sauvignon blanc grape likes to play it cool

Something about the thought of summer waiting around the corner turns my taste buds from the heavy tannic reds of winter to light, refreshingly crisp white wines.

When I think of lighter summer menus — Caesar salads, corn on the cob and shrimp on the grill — sauvignon blanc, with its fresh acidity, comes to mind as the perfect partner.

France’s Loire Valley is best known for producing high quality sauvignon blanc, but this grape also flourishes in the soils of California and New Zealand (where it is quickly becoming the signature wine).

Wines from the Loire Valley will be labeled in the European style, by region rather than grape and knowing that Sancerre and Pouilly Fume are sauvignon blanc growing areas helps avoid confusion. Most wines from places other than Europe will clearly list the grape varietal on the front label.

A safe tip for being a savvy sauvignon blanc buyer is: If it isn’t from a cool climate, you most likely will end up with a flat, flabby and drab example of this refreshing, zippy grape. Examples of warmer regions that grow this grape are California’s Central Valley or Spain’s La Mancha. When shopping in retail stores, stay with wines from cool climates, and you will rarely be disappointed.


  • 2008 Benziger Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $11 retail)
  • 2007 Honig Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2008 Blackstone Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2007 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $17 retail)
  • 2007 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $16 retail)
  • 2007 Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $13 retail)


  • 2008 St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $18 retail)
  • 2007 Chateau de Sancerre, France (about $29 retail)
  • 2007 Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $20 retail)
  • 2007 Pascal Jolivet Attitude, France (about $20 retail)
  • 2007 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $24 retail)

Proper wine storage is crucial, but simple

How to properly store wine is a frequent query from Uncorked readers.

Start with the storage conditions.

The optimum temperature is 52 degrees but anywhere from 40 to 65 degrees is safe. However, fluctuation causes inconsistent aging as wines mature faster at higher temperatures and slower at lower, so try to keep the temperature as constant as possible.

Second, keeping wines away from vibration, direct sunlight and excessive dampness is important for a slow, secure cellar slumber.

And finally, placing the bottles on their sides ensures the corks stay in contact with the wine — upright storage can cause the cork to dry out, exposing the wine to air and resulting in oxidation.

But even with these seemingly strict guidelines, there is no need to call in a cellar designer or rush out to buy a state-of-the-art cellaring cooler. Depending on the size and value of your collection, there are many options to fit almost any budget.


  • The bottom of a dark closet, bottles on their sides on the floor (free)
  • A small six- to 12- bottle decorative wine rack available at department and specialty stores ($24-$80)
  • Magic Chef 8 Bottle Wine Cooler (Model MCWC8DSCT) available at Home Depot (about $99)


  • Renting Professional Cellar Space such as Tuscany Wine Vaults at U-Storit in Little Rock. (501) 666-5700 ($20-$200, monthly)
  • Grand Cru 800 Wine Cellar Cooling Unit available at WineEnthusiast.com. (about $399)
  • Eurocave Performance 283 Service Package Wine Cellar with three temperatures available at WineEnthusiast.com. ($2,500-$4,000 retail)
  • Custom built, contact your local builder ($500-$10,000)

Grapes’ sensitivity yields annual surprises

Wine is truly a unique beverage when compared to others. Beer, sodas and spirits (with few exceptions such as scotch) generally taste the same bottle after bottle, year after year because the consumer expects consistency and these beverages are made with consistently flavored ingredients.

Wines, on the other hand, are much more distinct with variances from year to year. This is because grapes are sensitive to their environment and take on characteristics from the soil, temperature, amount of rainfall and environmental influences such as nearby crops, bodies of water and even wildfires. With ever-changing conditions, no two growing seasons are the same — that is why a 2005 Napa Valley wine will taste different from a 2007, even when produced from grapes grown in the same vineyard.

The most astonishing example was at a recent tasting with Jacuzzi Vineyards in Sonoma. Winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos provided a barrel sample from one of Jacuzzi’s vineyards growing Barbera grapes in Mendocino. The glass was filled with smoky and burned aromas. These aromas made sense after we were told the vineyard was blanketed in smoke from northern California wildfires during the growing season.

Neighboring crops can influence flavors as well, for example Australian vineyards grown near eucalyptus trees have a spicy, mint-like aroma in the wine. Even bodies of water can play a role; sherry aged near the sea takes on salty characteristics.

The experience of tasting a unique creation of the natural environment has been described as having “the earth in a glass” and is one of the great pleasures of wine drinking.


  • 2007 Yali Winemaker’s Selection Cabernet-Carmenere, Chile (about $12 retail)
  • 2006 Cellar No. 8 Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2006 Clean Slate Riesling, Germany (about $13 retail)


  • 2007 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $20 retail)
  • 2007 Bonny Doon Vineyard Ca’del Solo Albarino, California (about $25 retail)
  • 2005 Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico, Italy (about $30 retail)

Sunny French hillsides great for grapes

France’s Cote Rotie is home to some of the world’s most splendid Syrah wines. Other names for this region include “Roasted Slope” and “Burnt Hillside” — drawing imagery of the dark intense wines this region produces. Syrah is believed to have originated in the Middle East and has been grown in France since Roman times, with records of connoisseurs boasting of the wines as early as A.D. 40.

The hillside vineyards are some of the steepest in France. In some places the incline is as much as 55 degrees, making them difficult and expensive to keep up and harvest.

The hillsides also angle toward the southeast, offering the vineyards the ideal amount of sunshine from sunrise to sunset, letting the grapes ripen to perfection.

Two slopes, the Cotes Brune and Blonde, are adjacent hillsides and the most famous of the Cote Rotie’s vineyards. The Brune and the Blonde are the subjects of the most repeated legend in this region. A powerful aristocrat named Maugiron is said to have withdrawn to a chateau and bequeathed his vineyards to his two beautiful daughters. The northern slope went to one and the southern slope to the other. The slopes were christened according to the color of the girls’ hair “the blond being bright and lively when young, but fading quickly, the brune starting off quiet and reserved, but growing into a splendid eminence,” playing on the distinct differences in the styles of the two wines.

The legend does not tell why he bequeathed the two slopes to his daughters; some historians say kindness while others say it was to evade his tax commitments. No matter the reason, these wines are a treat for those looking to explore the amazing wines of this region.


  • 2004 Domaine La Montagnette Cotes du Rhone, France (about $14 retail)
  • 2006 Paul Jaboulet Aine Parallele 45 Cotes du Rhone, France (about $14 retail)
  • 2007 Les Garrigues Cotes du Rhone, France (about $15 retail)
  • 2006 Layer Cake Cotes du Rhone, France (about $19 retail)
  • 2005 E. Guigal Cotes Du Rhone, France (about $19 retail)


  • 2003 Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie, France (about $69 retail)
  • 2001 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone, France (about $40 retail)
  • 2001 Paul Jaboulet Aine Domaine Raymond Roure Crozes Hermitage, France (about $42 retail)
  • 2003 Paul Jaboulet Aine Domaine de Thalabert Crozes Hermitage, France (about $36 retail)

Wines turn ‘green’ – organically speaking

Everybody’s going “green” these days, from cosmetics to construction materials, and the wine world is no exception.

It was not uncommon 10 years ago to see the vineyard shed filled with an array of toxic chemicals used to prevent problems in vine growing — mildew, weeds, disease and pesky insects. But today many growers are addressing concerns in farming practices and the environment while taking a back-to-basics approach.

This renewed commitment to the earth isn’t a challenge to those who believe quality, clean fruit makes the best wine.

Fred Cline and Bob Cannard, co-founders of Green String Farm, believe sustainability in farming is the healthy, local and socially responsible way to be “green.”

On a recent trip to California’s Sonoma Valley I had the opportunity to talk with Cline and Cannard about their approach.

Cline is the owner of Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Cannard is a smallscale farmer and organic farming teacher. He is also the sole purveyor for produce for Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. Since 2000, they have been growing the Green String way — naturally and sustainably — while avoiding chemical pesticides, fertilizers and fungicides.

“The past has been agriculture for people and none for nature,” Cannard says of the way grapes have been farmed. “Our adversity with nature needs to be set aside.

“Bugs in a vineyard are not pests; they simply show us the vines are healthy.”

He is not just offering advice to the industry. He and Cline are living and breathing their philosophy each day in their growing practices.

Their main goal is retaining healthy vines while planting organic cover crops, using “compost tea” irrigation (molasses, fish emulsion and other nutrients), sheep grazing for weed control and insect predators to act as pesticides.

So far, few farmers have joined this approach, but Green String may be the future’s benchmark model of green growing. And as more consumers seek truly organically grown food, the wine industry will continue to evolve.


  • 2007 Cline Pinot Grigio, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2006 Cline Sonoma Zinfandel, California (about $12 retail)


  • 2007 Cline Cashmere, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2007 Cline Marsanne Roussane, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2007 Cline Ancient Vines Carignane, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2006 Cline Cool Climate Syrah, California (about $20 retail)

Fine wines to serve with Easter swine

The most common main dishes gracing American tables for Easter are ham or lamb. There are many explanations as to why these meats are often the centerpieces of the menu. One historian credits ham simply for good timing and convenience. Traditionally, hogs were slaughtered in the fall, then cured and smoked. The process took five to six months, and the hams were ready just in time for Easter.

Another explanation is that the pig was considered a symbol of luck in pre-Christian Europe.

Lamb’s popularity is more symbolic of the holiday. According to the Encyclopedia of Religion edited by Mircea Eliade:

“Among Easter foods the most significant is the Easter lamb, which is in many places the main dish of the Easter Sunday meal. Corresponding to the Passover lamb and to Christ, the Lamb of God, this dish has become a central symbol of Easter.”

Regardless of which meat you’ll be serving, there will most likely be an array of flavors competing for grandeur. Consider the following wine matches for your Easter celebration.

To serve with ham:


  • 2006 Hayman & Hill Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, California (about $14, retail)


  • 2006 Sonoma Cutrer Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, California (about $28 retail)

To serve with lamb:


  • 2007 Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon, Australia (about $12 retail)


  • 2007 Keenan Carneros Merlot, California (about $35 retail)

To serve with a buffet or a wide variety of dishes:


  • 2007 Clean Slate Riesling, Germany (about $12 retail)


  • 2006 Pierre Sparr Alsace One, France (about $19 retail)

Sparking wine to serve with morning brunch:


  • NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs, Washington (about $15 retail)


  • NV Domaine Carneros Brut, California (about $36 retail)

To serve at an afternoon egg hunt:


  • 2007 Castello Banfi Centine Rose, Italy (about $13 retail)


  • 2007 Banfi Rosa Regale, Italy (about $24 retail)