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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived October 22, 2013
Published October 3, 2013

Bring on the Oyster Wine Weather!
Part 3 of a 4-Part Series (See Part 1)  (See Part 2)  (See Part 4)
By Chuck Hill

Today, the sky is the color of oysters.  The cold wind is blowing and the rain is pelting down.  It is definitely time to shuck a few tasty bivalves and slurp some delicious oyster wines.  Presented here is another selection of Sauvignon/Fume Blanc wines that offer crisp acidity and perky flavors of citrus, gooseberry and herbs. 

Thank you again to Taylor Shellfish Farms for providing oysters for our tastings.  This week we added their Pacific species Shigoku to the table in addition to Kumamotos.  Shigoku is the Japanese word for  "ultimate. "  These oysters are grown in Willapa Bay in southwest Washington in floating bags that rise and fall with the tide.  The movement tumbles the oysters twice a day, giving them a more rounded exterior and pronounced cup shape.  Their flavor is less sweet than the Kumos, but offers complexity of briny cucumber and herbs. 

J. Christopher Winery
2012 Sauvignon Blanc
Willamette Valley

Jay Somers wanted to be a rock star ever since his mother brought home the Credence Clearwater Revival album Cosmos Factory when he was four years old.  He learned the guitar and today plays for the Portland band Poncho Luxurio.  He also learned the fermentation sciences alongside some of the Willamette Valley's finest winemakers.  His Sauvignon Blanc is bright and crisp and a fabulous oyster wine.  Look for aromas and flavors of grapefruit, lime zest, fresh herbs and floral perfume  -  delicious. 

L'Ecole No 41
2012 Luminesce, Seven Hills Vineyard
Walla Walla Valley

L'Ecole No 41 winery is a partner in the acclaimed 230-acre Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley.  Ranked as one of the Ten Great Vineyards of the World by Wine & Spirits Magazine, Seven Hills is the source for the fruit that makes the Luminesce blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.  Aromas of citrus, guava and flinty mineral lead to a rich palate that shows melon, lime and herbs and notes of sur lie character. 



Mercer Estates
2012 Sauvignon Blanc
Yakima Valley

This Sauvignon Blanc from the cooler Yakima Valley emphasizes the zesty herbal and grassy character of the variety without going over the top.  Grapes came from the Spring Creek Vineyard north of Prosser, Washington - one of the original sites developed by Hogue Cellars in the 1980s.  Shuck a few Kumos and enjoy the perfect pairing featuring aromas and flavors of grapefruit, zesty lemon and grassy herbs - a good value, too! 



Columbia Crest
2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Two Vines
Washington State

This value brand from Columbia Crest offers pretty tasty wines for very affordable prices.  Grapes are harvested from drip-irrigated vineyards and fed directly into the press.  Juice is cold-settled and racked off solids into stainless steel for fermentation.  Aromas of passion fruit, citrus and herbs lead to a crisp palate showing flavors of grapefruit, pear and mineral. 

Davenport Cellars
2012 Snowflake
Columbia Valley

Jeff and Sheila Jirka established Davenport Cellars with their first vintage in 2007, buying grapes from established vineyard sources and hoping one day to plant their own vineyard on Red Mountain.  Plans have changed with the winery now committed to using purchased grapes from the best sources available.  Their blend of 75% Sauvignon Blanc and 25% Semillon came from grapes grown at Bacchus and Dionysus Vineyards.  This tasty blend offers citrus and herb aromas with floral notes and hints of pear and stone fruits.  Visit their tasting room in Woodinville's warehouse winery district.
(See Area 2 of map.) 

Fish House
2012 Sauvignon Blanc
Columbia Valley

This wine is part of the House Wine brand from Precept Wines with the slogan,  "House Wine is the wine you drink anytime with anything - honest, tasty and real."  I certainly can't argue with the slogan as the wine offers straightforward, unpretentious Sauvignon Blanc character as the varietal is grown in the Northwest.  Look for aromas of valley straw, lemongrass, lime zest and citrus with flavors of lemon and stone fruits and notes of mineral - a winner with oysters and mussels. 

Hard Row to Hoe Winery
2012 Sauvignon Blanc
Columbia Valley

Winemaker Judy Phelps crafts her Sauvignon Blanc from grapes grown at Lonesome Springs Ranch located northwest of Benton City on the Rattlesnake Mountain bench.  This wine is the perfect match for oysters showing forward aromas of grapefruit and tropical fruits, including melon and passion fruit with hints of dusty herb and flint.  The palate is crisp and citrusy with floral and melon flavors on the finish. 

Snoqualmie Vineyards
2011 Sauvignon Blanc
Columbia Valley

Winemaker Joy Andersen has been at the helm of Snoqualmie since 1991, selecting the best grapes available to craft value-driven bottlings in both white and red wine.  Snoqualmie Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc is another selection seemingly custom made to go with oysters.  Clean and crisp aromas and flavors of citrus and tropical fruits - not too aggressive, not too light - and all at a great price!

Woodward Canyon Winery
2012 Sauvignon Blanc
Walla Walla Valley

This is the ninth vintage of Sauvignon Blanc crafted at Woodward Canyon Winery in the Walla Walla Valley.  Grapes were harvested from the estate vineyard, northwest of the winery in Lowden, and whole cluster pressed.  After settling, the juice was fermented in stainless steel, than aged in neutral French oak to enhance complexity and roundness.  Aromas of earthy mineral and flinty lemon lead to flavors of grassy lemon, melon and spice - a pleasant companion to both oysters and mussels. 

2012 Sauvignon Blanc
Columbia Valley

Waterbrook's talented winemaker John Freeman continues the winery tradition of producing superb Northwest food wines at value prices.  As this respected name in quality Northwest wine approaches its 30th birthday, it's nice to see a label that has stood the test of time.  Waterbrook Sauvignon Blanc is crisp with acidity, and a touch of residual sugar rounds out the palate for pleasant sipping as well as for serving with tempting oysters and mussels.  Look for aromas and flavors of cantaloupe, citrus, jasmine and guava. 

Agate Ridge Vineyard
2012 Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc
Rogue Valley

Agate Ridge winemaker Brian Denner crafted this wine from 65% Semillon and 35% Sauvignon Blanc, all from the estate vineyard near Eagle Point, Oregon in the Rogue Valley.  The wine offers great complexity and character, showing the terroir of the vineyard.  Rich tropical fruits and floral components are complemented by grassy Sauvignon Blanc notes and crisp acidity to create a wine that eagerly joins up with oysters and mussels.  Don't miss the Upper Rogue Wine Trail Harvest Celebration, Saturday, October 12.

Buty Winery
2011 White Wine Blend (60% Semillon, 19% Sauvignon, 21% Muscadelle)
Washington State

Buty Winery developed this classic white wine blend to showcase the unique strengths of Washington's Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc.  In 2007, to further enhance the blend, they began including Muscadelle, a rare grape in Washington State.  The wine's components were fermented separately, Semillon receiving skin contact, and the Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle were fermented whole cluster.  Wines were aged sur lie and completed malolactic fermentation.  Aromas of orchard blossom, stone fruits and lemony citrus lead to a rich and complex palate with flavors of creamy lemon curd, white peach and earthy mineral. 

Hogue Cellars
2011 Sauvignon Blanc
Columbia Valley

The Hogue Cellars changed the name of their Sauvignon Blanc-based wine from Fume Blanc to Sauvignon Blanc with the 2009 vintage.  The original Fume Blanc blend was created by winemaker Rob Griffin when he was at Hogue more than 20 years ago.  That wine had a portion of barrel-fermented Chardonnay in the blend to give some vanilla and toasty character to the austere Sauvignon Blanc.  This latest vintage of the varietal is angular and tangy with green apple, grapefruit and mineral components driving both aroma and flavor.   

Desert Wind
2011 Fume Blanc
Wahluke Slope

The Desert Wind Vineyard is located on Washington's Wahluke Slope AVA, a very warm sub-region of the Columbia Valley.  This wine was barrel fermented in French oak and bottled with just a hint of residual sugar.  It was blended with .5% Viognier.  The aroma of the wine leans away from citrus and grassy notes toward baked apple, earthy mineral and stone fruits.  The palate is rich with flavors of pear and notes of apricot, and finishes with a note of toasted hazelnut. 

Wines from other areas 

Grgich Hills Estate
2011 Fume Blanc Estate
Napa Valley

Grgich Hills Estate recently celebrated 35th anniversary of the Paris tasting of 1976 (see the excellent movie ''Bottle Shock'' for the whole story), where Mike Grgich's Chardonnay made at Chateau Montelena bested some of Burgundy's best white wines.  He started his own winery in 1977 and began making all estate-grown wines in 2003.  Grgich Fume Blanc was at the top of our rankings, offering the appealing gooseberry and grapefruit character plus sweet herbs and hints of toasty vanilla.  It's a tasty wine with oysters and even better with mussels. 

Joseph Phelps Winery
2012 Sauvignon Blanc Estate
Napa Valley

The other wine at the top of its tasting flight was this delicious Sauvignon Blanc made from grapes grown at the winery's Spring Valley Vineyard in St. Helena.  The wine was barrel fermented with native yeasts and aged in French oak, 35% new.  When you make wine with truly superior fruit, it can stand up to lots of oak contact and retain its varietal character and freshness.  The wine offers aromas of honeysuckle, lemon and pear with notes of cut hay and grapefruit.  The palate is fresh and complex, showing flavors of gooseberry, tangy tropical fruits and earthy mineral. 

Chateau Timberlay
2012 Sauvignon/Semillon
Bordeaux Superiore, France

One of the oldest Chateau in Bordeaux, originating in 1366, Chateau Timberlay produces estate-grown Bordeaux wines with an ecological and terroir driven philosophy.  The Chateau is owned by the Giraud family, which bases its extensive negociant and estate production at Timberlay.  The wine is crafted from 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Semillon and fermented in stainless steel to preserve freshness.  Look for aromas and flavors of white flowers, herbs, peach and lime zest.  Gentle acids allow the oyster to speak to the taster with a refreshing cleansing on the finish. 

Cakebread Cellars
2012 Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley

Cakebread winemaker Julianne Laks crafted this wine from grapes grown throughout the Napa Valley which were night harvested to fully capture the fresh, concentrated flavors and crisp acidity.  The grapes were whole-cluster pressed and fermented in predominantly stainless steel with barrel aging in neutral French oak.  This is a very oyster-friendly bottling, offering aromas of earthy herb, melon, grapefruit and hints of green olive and tropical fruits.  The palate embraces the oyster with grapefruit and gooseberry flavors with notes of green apple and mineral. 

Robert Mondavi Winery
2011 Fume Blanc
Napa Valley

This is the wine that Robert Mondavi created in the 1970s as an homage to the Blanc Fume wines of France's Loire Valley.  Barrel fermentation and aging was key, and the winery became expert at judging the proportion of juice that was barrel fermented and the length of aging sur lie.   Mr. Mondavi is gone now, but the heritage of this wine continues with winemaking technique and attendant excellent results.  Aromas of grassy herbs, citrus, lime zest and hints of toasty oak lead to a rich palate Meyer lemon, tropical fruits, toasty oak and vanilla.  

Tyler Florence
2010 Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley

Chef Tyler Florence teamed up with fourth-generation winemaker Rob Mondavi, Jr. (grandson of Robert Mondavi) to craft a Sauvignon Blanc from vineyards on the eastern flank of the Napa Valley.  Grapes came from the warmer climate Oso Vineyard in the Pope Valley (50%) and the cooler Milliken Vineyard in the southern Napa Valley (50%).  The wine was fermented in stainless steel to enhance aromatics with a portion barrel fermented to add creaminess and length.  Look for aromas and flavors of orchard blossom, Meyer lemon, earthy mineral and fresh herbs.

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