This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Nov. 17, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20081117.php.
Sauvignon or Fume?
Back in the 1960s, when most Americans didn't know what "Sauvignon" meant and fewer still knew how to pronounce it, Robert Mondavi borrowed a term from the Loire and came up with the moniker "Fumé Blanc" to distinguish his dry, lightly oaked Sauvignon Blanc from the sweeter style that then dominated the domestic market.
The name took off, and before long, there were probably about as many Fumés as Sauvignons on retail shelves. The distinction among styles was quickly lost, so the different names generally didn't represent any consistent pattern of sweet or dry, oaky or unwooded or anything else.
Now, 50 years later, with varietal wine labeling firmly in place and the names "Sauvignon Blanc" and "Cabernet Sauvignon" familiar to just about anyone who knows how to handle a corkscrew, a question occurs: Has the Fumé Blanc label outlived its usefulness?
Certainly with the high profile of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and the publicity surrounding trophy-level Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, there can't be a wine geek left who doesn't know how to pronounce Sauvignon and what it tastes like.
With no real distinction between Sauvignon and Fumé any more, it could be argued that there's no need for separate labels. But old habits die hard, and I doubt we'll see an end to Fumé Blanc any time soon.
Recently at a local restaurant with a seafood theme, we enjoyed one of the most popular American Fumé Blancs, the 2007 from Sonoma's Ferrari-Carano, a wine made primarily for the restaurant market and all but ubiquitous on wine lists.
As it happens, Ferrari-Carano is one maker that still maintains a consistent distinction between its Fumé Blanc, which is made with just a kiss of oak by keeping 43 percent of the batch in old French oak barrels while the rest resides in neutral stainless steel. The batches are blended just before bottling. Ferrari-Carano Sauvignon Blanc, in contrast, is aged entirely in stainless (and is made from the aromatic Musque clone), creating a wine of considerable different character.
Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc is generally a fine pick when you're enjoying seafood while dining out. Relatively affordably priced - its $17 suggested winery prace translated to $25 to $35 on typical restaurant wine lists - it's fresh and crisp, with a tart shot of acidity that marries with fish like a squirt of lemon. My tasting notes are below.
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Ferrari-Carano 2007 Sonoma County Fumé Blanc ($34/restaurant)
Clear light brass color. Delicious citrus and green chile-pepper aromas lead into a zippy acidic flavor that’s perfect with seafood and fish. After a week in the fridge under its sturdy metal screw cap, it's still surprisingly fresh, perhaps with the chile peppers shifting a bit toward green olive but otherwise little changed. A serviceable, food-friendly Sauvignon Blanc often found in restaurant sales. (Nov. 13, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: It went remarkably well with a Peruvian-style rock shrimp seviche, mahi-mahi tacos and sushi-rare ahi tuna at Seviche, a fine local nuevo Latino restaurant; and the leftovers served equally well a few days later with pan-fried tofu and eggplant with garlic from Red Pepper, a first-rate neighborhood Chinese restaurant.
VALUE: Widely available in restaurants, it's a good buy by wine-list standards in the $25 to $35 range. At retail, expect to pay from $12 to $16 in most markets, at which point it's a fine value; most retailers under-sell the $17 winery price.
WHEN TO DRINK: There's no rush to drink it up, especially now that it's closed with a sturdy screw cap; but freshness is a virtue, and I was delighted to find the 2007 vintage on the list.
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