Warming up to a delicious Loire Valley white

When I opened a bottle from France’s Loire Valley this past weekend, Hervé Villemade’s 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, I was reminded of the importance of temperature in enjoying the full spectrum of a wine’s flavors – and that wines without prestigious appellations on their labels can often be delicious values.

What turned out to be a lovely, subtly complex wine appeared at first one-dimensional and enclosed. But within a few minutes, the wine seemed to come alive, releasing wonderful and complex aromas and tastes and reinforcing my confidence that a wine with the broader “Val de Loire” classification could indeed be memorable.

What had happened, simply, was that the wine had warmed up a few degrees or so,  literally taking the chill out of the bottle and allowing the wine to express itself. If you have left a white wine in the fridge for more than an hour so or ordered one at a restaurant, chances are it’s going to be too cold. Tell your waiter to hold the ice bucket and let your wine sit on the table. (Conversely, I often ask that red wines be chilled down a few degrees to bring them to the more expressive and refreshing “cellar temperature.”)

As for the sauvignon, Villemade produces his wine in Cheverny, an appellation that calls for sauvignon to be blended with some chardonnay or a couple of other white varieties. Hence, an all-sauvignon wine must be declassified to the “Val de Loire” designation.

The sauvignon is made from organically farmed grapes (as are all of Villemade’s wines), and shows notes of orange, pear and apricot, a subtle herb touch and a nice mineral edge. The overall impression is generous and round, even with alcohol listed at just 12.5 percent. This is a beautiful wine with a winning price of about $14. It's available at Chambers Street Wines in New York and other stores.

Just promise me you won’t drink it too cold.


In a different league: Grgich Hills 2014 Fumé Blanc

The wine world is awash in sauvignon blanc. The grape is ubiquitous, grown in just about every wine-producing country, from the zippy Southern Hemisphere wines of New Zealand and Chile, to the mineral-driven sauvignons of France’s Loire Valley, to the more opulent wines of California, where one sauvignon blanc is in a class by itself.

That wine is Grgich Hills's Fumé Blanc (another name for sauvignon), and the recently released 2014 vintage is spectacular. This $31 estate wine made from organically grown grapes (as are all Grgich Hills wines), is one of the most balanced and elegant sauvignons you’ll find anywhere. The 2014 vintage is the best I’ve tasted in recent years.

Make no mistake, this is a sauvignon driven by the fruit, and in the mouth there is a lot of it to behold, with notes of pear and apple, some tropical fruit, touches of orange and pink grapefruit, and hints of green apple skin and white flowers. A long, mineral-driven finish gives the wine an attractive “chewiness.” There is an opulence here, achieved in part by the concentration of the fruit itself, but also by the subtle use of oak barrels in fermentation and aging, including six months on the lees. Opulent, but not overpowering, thanks to a good measure of acidity that keeps things fresh.

Many wine drinkers think of sauvignon as little more than cheap and decent wash-down wine, and there is certainly a place for those bottles, whether from Bordeaux or Chile or other parts of California. Grgich Hills brings American sauvignon to a different level and, at $30 or so, the 2014 Fumé Blanc seems like a bargain. (Received as a press sample.)