Serious Eats: Drinks

Wine for $9: Sauvignon Blanc

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Sauvignon Blanc is the fresh, tart limeade of affordable wine—a thirst-quencher for gulping on the patio on a hot summer evening. It's bright, tangy, and tasty, especially with some salty chips and guacamole or a plate of grilled fish. Whether you're stocking up for a party or just watching your budget, you can find quite a few decent bottles that sell for under ten bucks. In fact, we found more than a case full.

Our Top Picks Under $10

20100714conosur.jpgWe tried a number of inexpensive Chilean bottles that impressed us. The Cono Sur Bicycle Sauvignon Blanc (2009) is pretty sophisticated for the price, with a dry mineral backbone and creamy mouthfeel. The finish is tangy lime and tart kiwi—this is Sauvignon Blanc, after all—but in general this wine leans toward the mineral side, calling out for fresh clam spaghetti (and fresh corn on the cob.) Find this wine, about $8.

We also loved the fruitier Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc (2009), with its nose of honeysuckle and lime, mouthwatering grapefruity acidity, and full green apple flavor. It's rich and tart without any sharpness—quite impressive for a wine this affordable. Sip it with sushi and crabcakes, or spicy Thai food. Great value! Find this wine, $9-11.

On a hot day, call your friends and have them join you for a few bottles of juicy Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc (2009). It's a little spritzy with tons of grapefruit—or should we say pomelo?—flavor. There are tropical notes of honeydew, starfruit, mandarin orange juice, but it's drinkable and not too sweet. This is a wine that reminds you to chill out a little—we're here to have fun! Find this wine, $9-11.

Inexpensive New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is known for being lean and tart, pungent and sometimes laced with herbal, grassy notes. Among the drinkable low-end options is Monkey Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (2009), which is simple, tangy and tart, like a big glass of limeade. If you drink gin and tonic, you may find the hint of quinine-like flavor in this wine appealing. This wine has a bit of chalky minerality and light lavender notes. Serve it with Thai takeout or Old Bay-rubbed crabs. Find this wine, $9.

We found the Cupcake Vineyard Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (2009) a little easier on the tastebuds. It's delicate and soft (some might say a little thin), with light mineral notes and floral flavors that balance the lemon/lime tartness. The label says it tastes like lemon chiffon cupcakes, and that's not far off. This is a really drinkable summer wine, great for a hot day pairing with sushi, a lobster roll, or a crabcake. (Just to clarify, the grapes for this wine are grown and vinified in New Zealand, then the base blend is shipped to California, where the final blending and bottling occurs.) This one's a crowd-pleasing budget pick. Find this wine, $8.

Affordable Wines from Washington

20100715snoqualmie.jpgThe 2008 Snoqualmie Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc has a luscious fruit scent that's a little peppery. The wine is subtler than some, velvety with a delicate acidity and hints of sweet honeydew and wet rocks. Some might find the alcohol level (13.5% ABV) a little out of balance, though. Find this wine, $9-10.

The Desert Wind Sauvignon Blanc from Columbia Valley, Washington (2008) has pears on the nose and an earthy, herbal quality. It's quite dry and a little grassy, with a hint of apple and lemon-juice-dressed pear. It wasn't our favorite of the wines in this price bracket, but it's drinkable. Find this wine, $9.

California Cheapies

At this price point, most wines will be made from grapes gathered from a large region, not a specific vineyard. You're also likely to run into a lot of wines from the giants, such as those distributed by E&J Gallo. How'd they fare in our Sauvignon Blanc trials? Several are reliably tasty. We enjoyed the Dancing Bull California Sauvignon Blanc (2008) for its slightly rounded mouthfeel and smooth finish. You'll taste more honeydew than acidic tang, which may give it wide appeal at parties. Find this wine, $8-10.

Lovers of the puckery style of Sauvignon Blanc will fall for the Geyser Peak California Sauvignon Blanc (2008), which is nearly light green in color and has a classic lime zest and seashell scent. We were reminded of starfruit and lime, but this wine is dry, not juicy, with calcium notes and a hint of green bell pepper. Some found the finish a little harsh, but for pairing with grilled asparagus or gazpacho, we like it, especially for the price. Find this wine, around $8.

Bogle is another reliable producer of California wine, and their 2009 California Sauvignon Blanc is above average for the price. It's mellow, with ripe passionfruit and guava flavors without being sugary, and delicate minty grass notes. We tasted a bit of green bell pepper in the mix as well. There's a good splash of citrusy acidity to refresh the palate. Find this wine, $8-9.

In a similar vein, the Mirassou California Sauvignon Blanc (2008) is a fine option for a large group, with notes of peach nectar and a slight grapefruit tang. It's not too tart, with a rich, slightly floral taste, but has a slightly sharp mineral and alcohol edge at the finish. Find this wine, $9.

Some Options from South Africa

Guava and melon dominate the scent of the KWV Sauvignon Blanc South Africa (2009), and the flavor is pungent and tangy, with herbaceous green grass notes. It's slightly spritzy but medium bodied, with notes of mango, lime, and green papaya. It was a bit too boozy for our taste, but might be better with food—try monkfish with pineapple or mango salsa. Find this wine, $9-10.

Up front, the Man Vintners 2009 Western Cape Sauvignon Blanc is smooth and herbaceous, but it left us wanting more of a citrusy pop of flavor. Again, the alcohol sticks out a bit. Find this wine, $8-10.

And a Few Words of Warning

We'd heard good things about Augey White Bordeaux, a blend of Sauvigon Blanc and Semillon. It reminded us a bit of canned peaches in syrup with hints of honey, but we didn't feel like the flavors were integrated very well. Find this wine, $7-9.

Terra Andina in Chile makes a few levels of Sauvignon Blanc. Skip the cheapest one, Terra Andina Sauvignon Blanc D.O. Valle Central (2008, around $8) which has vivid flavors of mango and papaya but also a harshness we didn't love, in favor of the Terra Andina Reserva 2009 Sauvignon Blanc D.O. Valle de Leyda, which is a few dollars more but offers more smooth body and tart acidity, notes of sour gooseberry, Granny Smith apple, and lemon peel. (We also noted a green celery flavor.) Find the Reserva, around $12.

Disclosure: all wines were review samples.

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