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Serious Grape: More Sauvignon Blanc Under $18

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Gorgeous, right? [Photograph: Warwick Wine Estate]

We crave tangy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, especially when the weather's hot, but NZ winemakers aren't the only ones making tasty wines from our beloved varietal. This week, we checked out a few more affordable bottles from around the globe, and were pleased to find a nice range of examples. A few expressed chalky minerality and balanced, fresh acidity, while others burst with tropical fruit flavors and grassy herbal notes.

Top Picks Under $18

Menetou-Salon may not be quite as famous as Sancerre, but that's all the more reason to know about it—Sauvignon Blanc from this region is often a pretty good value. We're quite happy drinking the Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon (2008). It's lively and bright, nicely integrated with a creamy minerality (though not quite the striking stoniness of Sancerre). It's a lovely beach wine, with hints of tropical fruit and a bright acidity. Serve it with calamari or grilled octopus. Find this wine, $17-18.

The Warwick Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc (2009) from Stellenbosch, South Africa, is another one of our favorites. It's creamy, with hints of gravel and a nice juicy acidity on the finish. We tasted starfruit and lemon thyme, chives, and pineapple. It's not totally puckery the way New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is, but real Sauvignon Blanc characteristics come through; it's not overripe or overhandled. Serve this easy-to-drink wine with oysters or crab cakes. Find this wine, $14-17.

The mineral-driven Neil Ellis Sincerely Sauvignon Blanc (2009) has a chalky creaminess and hints of peach. It's an easy drinking balcony wine and a great affordable alternative to Sancerre. We'd pair it with Vietnamese summer rolls or monkfish. Find this wine, around $11. We also enjoyed the focused, tangy Neil Ellis Groenekloof Sauvignon Blanc (2008), with its long finish and slight earthiness, though we weren't certain it was interesting enough to warrant spending extra. Find this wine, $15-17.

Recommended

Bracing acidity and dry herb notes dominate the flavors of De Martino's 347 Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (2009). Though this Chilean wine has fragrant fruit on the nose, it's a bit austere in the mouth, with hints of grapefruit (and grapefruit pith), lemongrass, and thyme. It's fresh and focused, but the finish is just a little harsh. Find this wine, around $13.

Another solid Chilean option is the 2009 Haras Sauvignon Blanc from the Maipo Valley. It's vivid, focused, and tangy, with delicate nectarine and lemon notes and bright acidity—and just a hint of prickly carbonation. Find this wine, around $12.

The Weinert 2009 Carrascal White from Mendoza, Argentina surprised us a little. The bottle we tried of this blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc was a bit oxidative, like a baby sibling of the Jura's vin jaune or fino sherry. The nutty, figgy notes were backed up by a delicate limey acidity, but also a hint of apple cider vinegar. Was this a faulty bottle? If so, we're not the only ones—it looks like the staff at K&L Wine Merchants had a similar experience. And a little hazelnutty, sea-breezy oxidation in a wine isn't necessarily a bad thing; it can be brilliant when paired with Comte cheese or oily mackerel. Find this wine, around $13.

Recommended with Reservations

We used to buy Chateau Bonnet Blanc regularly, but the 2008 bottle of this white Bordeaux blend that we sampled for this article wasn't quite what we remembered. Perhaps previous versions included more Sauvignon Blanc—this one struck us as quite rich and floral, with the impression of sweetness from the Semillon that's blended in. We tasted dried pears, honeydew, and cucumber, but wished it was a wee bit crisper. Find this wine, around $10.

I wouldn't mind drinking Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc at a barbecue; it's refreshingly tart. But it has a grassiness that doesn't quite blend in, and a few strange flavors. Mealy peach? Green banana peel? You can do better for ten bucks, but you can also do much worse. Find this wine, around $10.

Skippable

The Fortress 2009 Red Hills Lake County Sauvignon Blanc wasn't quite the sprightly sipper we hoped for. It's riper and heavier, with a hefty 14.2% ABV. If you're usually a Chardonnay drinker, you might like this one, but for us, the alcohol flavor (especially on the finish) was just too much.

Disclosure: All wines were provided as samples for review.

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