Sometimes when you drink a winery’s less famous wine, you have a delightful surprise, as I did with the 2011 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc.
Cakebread Cellars is famous for its big, full-bodied, Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Its sauvignon blanc is not exactly a wallflower, but neither is it in the forefront of wine consumers’ thoughts when Cakebread comes to mind.
Based on my tastings of the 2011 Cakebread Cellars sauvignon blanc, I suggest putting it higher on your list.
Earlier this month, I had lunch at Nobu, the nouvelle Japanese cuisine restaurant in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. We ordered a bottle of the 2011 Cakebread Cellars sauvignon blanc to be poured with our mussels with spicy garlic sauce and a selection of tuna and eel sushi rolls.
I recalled I was pleasantly surprised by the wine a few months ago. I had expected that the wine would be as big and bold as Cakebread’s red wines and chardonnay–exactly what I do not want from sauvignon blanc. Instead my senses received a sauvignon blanc that was of California, but not overwhelmingly Californian.
The 2011 Cakebread Cellars sauvignon blanc originates in various vineyards throughout Napa Valley. The year was what wineries like to term, “a winemaker’s vintage.” Translation: Nature was not kind to us, and we had to use all our skills to make this wine. It’s a year that separates the pros from the amateurs.
After Cakebread finished its late harvest with a reduced crop of grapes from a cold, wet growing season, it fermented 82 percent of them in stainless-steel tanks and 18 percent in 1-to-4-year old French oak barrels. Then it transferred nearly all of the wine into older French oak barrels for five months of aging.
This process added body and preserved the fruit flavors and acidity of the sauvignon blanc, but did not impart the vanilla aroma and flavor of new French ago barrels that some California winemakers inject into their sauvignon blanc. Instead winemaker Julianne Laks blended small amounts of semillon and sauvignon musque, bringing softness and richness to the wine.
The result of this thoughtful winemaking? The 2011 Cakebread Cellars sauvignon blanc has the full mouth feel and fruit aromas of California with a mild acidic backbone that keeps the palate fresh. It is not as tart as Sancerre (France’s great sauvignon blanc appellation) nor as bracing as New Zealand’s grapefruit scented-and-flavored sauvignon blanc.
It was a perfect mate for the slightly spicy mussels, garlicky vegetables and ocean-fresh sushi rolls. It showed what a pleasure sauvignon blanc can be when the winemaking is restrained and captures the grape’s character despite the challenge of the vintage.
The 2011 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc retails for about $30.