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Shrink This Drink?

California Sauvignon Blancs — no longer needing therapy.

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Sometimes misreading is so much more interesting than reading things correctly. Case in point: While I was studying up on the history of California Sauvignon Blanc before this week's tasting, I came across the name of Maynard Amerine, an eminent oenologist and plant psychologist who believed that the variety was California's greatest white grape. Fair enough, I thought, barely tripping on the word psychologist. Maybe that's because, if ever a grape needed a good therapist, it's Sauvignon Blanc — what with all those years spent living in Chardonnay's shadow, unrecognized for its parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, finding success only when Robert Mondavi chose to mask its true identity by calling it Fumé Blanc ....

Alas, Amerine was a plant physiologist, not a psychologist. But he was a great defender of the grape and a mentor to Mondavi — who, like it or not, did Sauvignon Blanc a big favor when he capitalized on America's late-Sixties enchantment with all things French by labeling his wine Fumé Blanc. More proof that he was on to something: Rumor has it that when the Fetzer family offered two bottles of the same wine, one labeled Sauvignon Blanc and the other Fumé Blanc, as an experiment in their Mendocino tasting room, visitors overwhelmingly preferred the latter.

That was then. These days, neither Mondavi's wines nor anyone else's need to hide their Sauvignon Blanc–ness. In fact, there it is proudly displayed on the label of the 2009 Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi California Sauvignon Blanc ($7.99). I loved the aroma on this wine: Think fresh melon drizzled with honey, with a little citrus and freshly mown field thrown in for good measure — as well as its dry, clean, light taste. Token Winemaker enjoyed it too, though he complained about too much alcohol coming through on the palate, as well as its hard finish. We both found the Mondavi preferable to the 2007 Robledo Lake County Sauvignon Blanc ($7.99), which had a pleasant bouquet of melon, banana, eucalyptus, and geranium and a nice balance of floral and vegetal notes on the palate, but a bit too much residual sugar for our taste.

Token Winemaker's favorite was the slightly effervescent 2008 Sterling Vineyards Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc ($9.99) made from organically grown grapes. Fittingly, the aroma on this one was green, green, green — I noted green beans as well as a general stemminess and eau de "tree innards," while Token Winemaker was nearly overwhelmed by asparagus. Even so, he praised its lovely mouthfeel, balance, and finish.

There was nothing offensive about the priciest wine in this week's tasting, but at $14 I can't recommend the 2008 Slingshot Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. To me, the fruity aroma with notes of straw barely masked an odor of something rotten or burnt — which Token Winemaker detected on the palate and attributed to an overabundance of sulfides. You can do better under $10.

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