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Let’s get this out of the way: there’s nothing wrong with the majority of BC Sauvignon Blanc. For the most part, it’s fine. The problem arises that, in the face of the juggernaut that is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc - where they crank out good, juicy, perfectly quaffable SB for under $20 but the tanker full fine doesn’t cut it. Think about this: Kim Crawford makes more bottles of wine in a year than all the BC VQA producers combined. So where does that leave us? Innovating.
In this case that means casting our gaze away from the flavour of the month that is the cat-pee and gooseberry take on SB and go back to the grape’s very beginnings in France’s Bordeaux region. When most people think French Sauvignon Blanc they think the steely, minerally expression in Sancerre, but it’s in Bordeaux where the grape reaches its pinnacle…with a little help from a friendthe Semillon grape. Semillon was once the most widely planted grape in the world (at one time accounting for 75% of all Chilean vineyards) but other than a sublime pocket in Australia’s Hunter Valley it’s been relegated to supporting actor roles (it’s the base a for the great sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, but we’re talking table wines here)
But anyone who’s shelled out for a great bottle of Bordeaux Blanc (I’m partial to Domaine de Chevalier when I’m flush) know that when paired with the citrus and tropical notes of Sauvignon Blanc it add’s some power, an almost waxy richness and sublime tension that make even good New Zealand wine seem sophomoric. But Bordeaux Blanc is God-awful expensivethe starting point is $45 and you go waaaaaay up in a hurry.
But it was a bottle of Mission Hill’s Jagged Creek Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon that convinced me that the Bordeaux style is our path to SB salvation. For starters it has the body of a heavy wine, but loses none of its stone fruit nimbleness. And while it has some textbook fruit forward greetings, there’s a savouriness that follows up that adds to crazy complexity and tension. If you told me it was a $100 Bordeaux blanc, I wouldn’t have blinked (it’s $35 btw, but Mission Hill also has an amazing reserve White Meritage that’s 51%SB, 49% Semillon that’s also excellent, and, at $22, one of the best white wine deals in the Province).
But it’s not just Mission Hill who’s leading the way. Gene Covert at the splendid Covert Farms has also been using Semillon to elevate his sauvignon blanc for years and he like wise is able to get that tension goingan interesting bite of dried fruit meets fresh fruit meets wild herbs. And again, at $25 this is a wine that has miles more complexity than Kim Crawford at only a few dollars more.
Another insanely priced gem is from that staple of minimalist coolLock & Worth. I’m not sure I can do better than theirminimalistdescription: Focused, lithe and dry. Citrus pith, lemon verbena, hay. dry and fresh. Unfine and infiltered. Now-2023? This wine skews towards the non-interventionist side of the scale, so it’s often a bit cloudy but what a treat it is. And it’s $20.
Two other quickies I’d be remiss not to mentionHowling Bluff and Burrowing Owl, both of whom can claim some pioneer status in this area. Howling’s gives much of what we’ve described above but leads a bit more with the white peach notes, whereas Burrowing Owl’s has only 8% Semillon, but adds some new oak treatment making pretty unique and broad shouldered.
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