Fruit Bowl 

Finding value — and more fruit than expected — in three sassy Sauvignon Blancs.

Perhaps recessionista fever is to blame — the trend motivating former spendthrifts to embrace scrimping and saving as suddenly glam — but certain wineries are coming out of the closet about sourcing their grapes from low-cost Lodi. For years this Central Valley AVA has sold grapes at a price that's enabled many a mass-market winery to pass along value to the consumer. But most wineries have chosen to do so stealthily, slapping the generic California appellation on their label and letting the fact that their winemaking facility is based in Napa, Sonoma, or Paso Robles create the illusion that the grapes were grown in those fancier and more recognizable regions.

But now that bringing lunch to work and shopping at thrift stores has evolved from down-market hip to upscale haute, a few wineries are feeling okay about waving the Lodi flag with pride. They're surely recognized as Johnny-come-latelies by the folks at Ironstone, a Sierra Foothills winery whose founder, John Kautz, hails from Lodi and built a hugely successful business as a wine grape supplier prior to first producing his own wines in the late 1980s. So it's with genuine hometown pride — and the knowledge that the grapes of this region are actually nothing to sniff at — that Kautz and Co. put the words "Lodi Appellation" front and center on their label.

I've praised Ironstone's Lodi Zinfandel in the past, but I was more impressed by the 2008 Lodi Sauvignon Blanc ($7.99) we tasted this week. This wine had a lemony aroma with just a touch a strawberry and some wet-stone, mineral qualities. Its off-dry, nicely balanced taste begged for another sip. Absent were the familiar herbaceous qualities Sauv Blanc fans might expect, but nonpurists won't complain, given all there is to like in this wine.

A bit lacking in fruit but still enjoyable was the 2008 MAN Vintners Sauvignon Blanc ($8). Over the past several years, MAN's home territory of South Africa has developed a reputation for quality imported Sauv Blanc rivaled only by New Zealand, and this wine didn't disappoint (me, at least), with a peachy and slightly grassy bouquet and some melon on the palate. Token Winemaker complained of its canned-green-bean aroma and some rot in the finish.

His favorite hailed from Chile: the 2008 Nuevomundo Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99), made from organic grapes. Chile's Sauv Blancs are made largely from cloned California grape vines, and perhaps that Californication is what made the Nuevomundo seem more "classic" to us both. Mixed in with some grassiness in the aroma was a little grapefruit, and lots of citrus on the palate. Token Winemaker tasted pear and peach in this bone-dry, light wine, and he praised its good acid and balance as well as its lengthy finish.


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