Tuesday, July 20, 2010

This is kind of nice, two nights in a row of finding a lovely wine to settle into through the evening. There are nights where I feel like I'm sifting and not finding anything special, but I'm quite happy when I'm forced to pause and think through a wine that seems to be trying to tell me something.

Last night it was the 2007 Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast from California ($30), and tonight, it's the 2009 Benziger Family Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County / Lake County ($17).

Smith & Hook is a brand owned by Nicky Hahn of Hahn Vineyards, the same estate that produced Hahn wines and spawned both the highly successful Rex Goliath brand (later sold to Constellation) and Cycles Gladiator wines. A decade ago he brought in Bill Leigon to oversee marketing, and Leigon helped Hahn recruit winemakers like Kerry Damskey, Barry Gnekow and later Adam Lazarre to make bargain-busting clever wines from Central Coast grapes, including the estate's Santa Lucia Highland fruit.

This '07 Cabernet from Smith & Hook is quite extraordinary. It doesn't have the sappy, richness of so many Napa Cabernets, but what it does have is the elegant refinement of fine Bordeaux. It's flavorful without being heavy, zesty and lithe, with sweet raspberry, plum, licorice flavors that juggle subtle terroir and ripe fruit with tremendous agility.

The 2009 Benziger Sauvignon Blanc is every bit as entertaining. It's not tremendously concentrated, but what's there is tremendously interesting. So often New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is aggressively vegetal, almost tasting of asparagus. Sauvignon Blanc from France's Loire Valley and Chile often hits the classical mark, with fresh cut grass and tart grapefruit flavors.

Often California Sauvignon Blanc offers another distinct variation on the theme, with aromas and flavors that go from the classic grapefruit and grass flavors of French Sauvignon to pear, passion fruit and clover notes, this new vintage of Benziger Sauvignon Blanc being a great example.

It's a little bit softer and more easygoing, less challenging than many from Europe and South America, a very easy drinking white that anyone should find easy to appreciate.

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