Wednesday Night Wine: Napa Sauvignon Blanc Worth The Price
By Cathy Huyghe, Forbes
Note: Each entry in the Wednesday Night Wine series is organized around a particular wine region or theme — Prosecco, for example, or wines from Umbria, or sparkling wines from Brazil. A group of consumers (normally ten to twelve people with an enthusiastic interest in wine) taste and comment on a range of wines from the point of view of everyday shoppers, both women and men, who are likely to be choosing which wine to pull off the shelf. This week we tasted examples of Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley.
A persistent theme in the Wednesday Night Wine series is the likelihood of consumers to identify a quality difference and express a distinct preference when they’re blind to the price. Consumers know what’s good, in other words, even when they don’t know how much it costs.
We first noticed this tendency during the tasting of a range of Prosecco wines, from entry level all the way to higher-priced DOCG. “We know which wines are better,” I wrote then. “We can taste it, and sense it intuitively. And after the retail cost of each of the wines is revealed, most of the tasters agreed that the higher-priced bottles were in fact worth the higher price tag.”
At no point in the Wednesday series since then has this theme been as significant — until this week’s focus on Napa Sauvignon Blanc. Tasters commented on the wines first without knowing the price, but once we lined up the wines according to preference, the least-preferred wines fell into the less-costly group, and the group of favored wines were clearly those that were higher priced. We looked closer at the labels at that point and noted that the favored wines also tended to list a specific vineyard of origin on the label, and they tended to be produced in very limited quantities (250 cases a year, as one example).
Price was far from the only differentiating factor, however. Generally speaking, tasters felt that the less favored wines had certain characteristics in common: not enough personality, one-dimensional, and “too citrus-y.” The more favored wines, on the other hand, showed “drinkability,” a lack of bitterness, and more fruit.
Only a few of the examples we tasted happened to have oak treatment, and it was minimal; that feature, along with the alcohol content, barely factored into the conversation. Tasters placed more emphasis, instead, on whether the wine was approachable, and could easily be passed around the dinner table with a range of food options.
Producers that, in my opinion, consistently distinguish themselves in this category won praise in this group’s opinion as well, most notably Arkenstone, Honig, Quintessa, and Round Pond. There were also significantly lesser-known labels that had been, until the tasting, completely off these consumers’ radars but that caught their eye and their palates for different reasons. Here were five of those highlights.
2015 Arrow&Branch Sauvignon Blanc, $35. Tasters appreciated the acidity and fruit in this wine that’s identifiable as a Sauvignon Blanc, though raised several notches above. For those reasons — familiarity, but with a boost of quality — tasters said they “couldn’t go wrong” by serving it. They noted a confidence about the wine, a unique certainty that “it knows who it is.” That was a comment that led to a discussion about the symbiotic nature, and the genetic relationship, of Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon, the most famous of all Napa plantings.
Other wines tasted:
2013 Empreinte Sauvignon Blanc
2015 Trefethen Sauvignon Blanc
2014 Nicholson Jones Sauvignon Blanc
2015 Phifer Pavitt Date Night Sauvignon Blanc.