The combination of August’s heat and humidity with even mildly spicy fare, like chicken fajitas, is an impediment to enjoying the rich white Burgundies or California Chardonnays. Lighter and zestier wine, such as sauvignon blanc, is the order of the day.
Although grown around the world, perhaps the best-known locales for distinctive sauvignon blanc-based wines are the Loire River towns of Pouilly sur Loire, home to Fume Pouilly, and Sancerre. California also produces excellent sauvignon blanc, named either by the grape or as fume blanc, a moniker invented by Robert Mondavi, the man who more than any other individual was responsible for popularizing California wine. In contrast to Sancerre, with its signature mineral-infused flavor, the range of sauvignon blanc from California is broad and can be bewildering, depending on whether winemakers age it in oak or blend it with semillon in an attempt to tame its potentially pungent character.
Since I have failed to find a consistent stylistic difference between those labeled Fume Blanc – they do not resemble Pouilly Fume – or Sauvignon Blanc, I suggest consumers focus on remembering the name of the producer whose style they enjoy.
Robert Pepi started his eponymous Napa Valley winery in 1966 and sold it in 1994 to Jess Jackson, of Kendall Jackson fame, who changed the name to just Pepi. Since the grapes for the Pepi sauvignon blanc come mostly from Lake County with lesser amounts from Napa and Sonoma, Kendall Jackson could have labeled this sauvignon blanc with the more prestigious North Coast appellation, rather than just California. But George Rose, a spokesman for Kendall Jackson, said that their research showed a California appellation actually had more recognition among consumers than did a North Coast one.
Pepi’s sauvignon blancs are typically pure and vibrant, and their 2003 fits that mold beautifully. With an attractive edge, it’s a perfect choice for a muggy August evening. If you don’t finish the bottle, the screw cap allows you to reseal it easily and sip it a day or two later.
Pepi, Sauvignon Blanc, 2003. About $10. Distributed by Ruby Wines, 508-588-7007, and M S Walker, 800-238-0607.
August 19, 2004.