For all the (increasingly outdated) ridicule heaped on California chardonnays, California sauvignon blanc has been, if anything, even more scorned as a category. Much of California wine country is prone to hot weather, and hot weather is generally not conducive to producing good sauvignon blancs. The grape reaches its apogee in France's Loire Valley, where there is enough sun and warmth to ripen the grapes but not so much that they lose the brisk acidity that makes sauvignon blanc such an excellent thirst-quencher and food wine.
But California sauvignon blancs have justly earned a reputation for being flabby and dull. But as we've noted before, exciting stuff is happening in California wine country these days. A new generation of producers is looking to make wines in a more elegant vein, and as part of this process, they are scrupulously trying to match the right grapes to the right soils, a quest that has now extended to sauvignon blanc. Justin Willett, one of the young winemakers at the vanguard of this movement, has teamed up with sommelier Eric Railsback to start a label called Lieu-Dit, which focuses on Loire Valley grape varieties, among them sauvignon blanc.
"Lieu dit" is a French term used to refer to an individual vineyard, or a portion of a vineyard. In this case, the wine comes from a couple of different vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara. Willett and Railsback did some canny site selection, a point underscored by the 2012 Lieu Dit Sauvignon Blanc. What we like about this wine is that it manages to be crisp while also showing an underlying richness, and what we especially like is that it doesn't have the shrillness of many sauvignon blancs (which is one reason we are not big fans of the grape). It is a subtle, elegant sauvignon blanc, and those are two adjectives that we never thought we'd use to describe a California sauvignon blanc. There's lots of reasons to be bullish about California wines these days, and Lieu Dit is one of them. [$25; wine-searcher.com]