What Am I Tasting?

This lush, expressive white shows ripe peach with floral notes and a fresh finish ... Play the game!

August 07, 2020

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: Succulent, with ripe peach and apricot flavors and details of marmalade, set on a smooth, lush frame. Spice and floral details, as well as a whiff of honeysuckle and nutmeg, glide along on the long, expressive and freshly juicy finish.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our mystery wine is a succulent and ripe white with a juicy finish that indicates fresh acidity. And our wine’s smooth, lush frame and spice details are good signs that it has seen some degree of oak contact, which could be an important clue as we go. Let’s see if we can narrow down our choices and unravel this mystery.

We can begin by eliminating Melon de Bourgogne. While Melon wines have high acidity, they are generally light-bodied, not lush. And their aromas tend toward green citrus and orchard fruit, with distinct mineral aromas that are missing in our wine.

Torrontés is also known for producing aromatic wines with crackling acidity. However, although our wine’s peach and spice notes could indicate a Torrontés, we are missing the grape’s hallmark aromas of rose, white cherry and citrus. Let’s move on!

Gewürztraminer is a cool-climate grape that is made in a variety of styles and at several sweetness levels. It can produce ripe and succulent wines with peach, floral and spice flavors. But the grape’s low acidity is not a good match. Plus, we are missing Gewürztraminer’s telltale rose petal, ginger, grapefruit and lychee aromas. Maybe another grape works better?

Riesling is high in acidity and can show similar flavors to our wine, including peach, citrus, and floral notes. To preserve the grape’s natural freshness, producers rarely ferment or age Rieslings in oak. What’s more, we are missing Riesling’s pronounced minerality and aromas of orchard fruit, beeswax or petrol.

We are left with Sauvignon Blanc, a widely grown grape that excels in moderate climates where it can retain its mouthwatering acidity and expressive aromas. Sauvignon Blanc ranges in style from light whites with citrus, herbal and mineral aromas to fuller versions with ripe stone fruit flavors. It’s also a wine that is frequently aged in oak barrels, which can add body and spice notes.

This wine is a Sauvignon Blanc.

Country or Region of Origin

Sauvignon Blanc is a popular international grape variety, but it doesn’t thrive everywhere. There’s limited acreage in Oregon, where Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are the primary white grapes. Germany is an unlikely choice for our wine, as well—although you will find Sauvignon Blanc in regions like Baden, it plays a minor role in Germany compared to Riesling, Silvaner and Kerner. Argentina’s Mendoza region, where Malbec reigns, has some notable Sauvignon Blanc acreage, but Torrontés and Chardonnay are the lead white grapes here. And Argentine Sauvignon Blancs lean toward the refreshingly crisp style as opposed to our wine’s lush frame.

Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s signature white grape, typically producing zingy wines with citrus, mineral and herbal accents like lemongrass. While most versions are fermented in stainless steel, some producers now practice barrel fermentation and extended lees contact. But our wine is missing key elements of New Zealand Sauvignon, like lime flavors, gooseberry or passionfruit, as well as a distinct tangy aroma. However, California Sauvignon Blancs are generally light- to medium-bodied with stone fruit notes and floral or herbal accents. The state’s top versions are often plush with juicy acidity, and many receive added richness and aromas from oak aging.

This Sauvignon Blanc is from California.

Appellation

Knowing that our Sauvignon Blanc is from California, we can eliminate Argentina’s Salta, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay and Germany’s Pfalz.

This leaves us with the Santa Lucia Highlands and St. Helena appellations. Santa Lucia Highlands is a cool-climate appellation in the Santa Lucia mountain range. Here, warm days are tempered by afternoon winds from Monterey Bay, making conditions ideal for growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. But Sauvignon Blanc is not one of the AVA’s key grapes. In St. Helena, a subappellation of Napa Valley, warm days help ripen grapes, while much cooler nights allow them to retain acidity. While Cabernet Sauvignon is St. Helena’s top grape, the region has also gained attention for its juicy Sauvignon Blancs.

This Sauvignon Blanc is from St. Helena.

Age

Our Sauvignon Blanc has likely seen some time in oak, a process that could last several months. However, our white’s fruits are still fresh, and there’s no sign of the savory, herbal character of aged Sauvignon Blanc. Let’s look at more recent vintages to pinpoint our wine’s age.

The 2019 Sauvignon Blancs are just starting to be released, and the majority of wines on the current market are from the 2018 vintage. Napa vintners enjoyed an ideal growing season in 2018, with a long, slow-paced harvest that led to succulent wines with juicy fruits and buttery, floral or spicy accents. 2017’s growing season was largely good, but with extreme heat in September and wildfires in October, yielding generally citrus-focused Sauvignon Blancs with hints of beeswax, lanolin and spice. 2016 was the last vintage influenced by California’s years-long drought, producing wines with melon and citrus flavors, accented by floral, tropical and cream notes, but a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc would likely be starting to show some signs of age by now as well.

This Sauvignon Blanc is from the 2018 vintage, making it two years old.

Wine

This is the Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena 2018, which scored 93 points in the Dec. 15, 2019, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $45, and 1,845 cases were made. For more on California Sauvignon Blanc, check out senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec’s tasting report, "A Golden Age for Sauvignon Blanc," in the May 31, 2020, issue.

—Augustus Weed, tasting coordinator