Summer is basically one long excuse: to slack off work, to read pulp, to loaf heroically. For me it's also the season to change my wine choice from relentlessly red to white-- specifically to California Sauvignon Blanc. It's a varietal I find myself turning to more and more, not because it's cheaper than the state's star white, Chardonnay (though that helps), but because it's better at slaking thirst, harmonizing with food and generally bringing a summer sort of immediacy to the pleasures of drinking wine.
I'm not alone in this belief. Sancerre, the famous Loire Valley white made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape, has long had admirers who've fallen for its flinty charms. And these days wine lovers have been raving about the Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, Washington State and South Africa. Meanwhile, in California, the map of distinguished Sauvignon Blanc producers continues to spread, from Napa Valley and the Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys in Sonoma County to as far north as Mendocino County.
California Sauvignon Blancs (sometimes called Fumé Blancs, a term invented by Robert Mondavi to distinguish his oak-aged Sauvignon Blancs from ones that were not) tend to be less rich and buttery than California Chardonnays, with a liberating lightness and lack of complication. They're also brighter and less mineral than Sancerres, yet with the same wonderfully refreshing acidity. Then there's the fragrance: distinctive and penetrating, more of an announcement than an aroma. Some describe it as grassy, but if so, it's grass freshly mown, the faint pull of the earth still lingering in all that green.