By Celia Strong
Hopefully, today and today’s wine will be fun for all of us. It is a new wine. And, a new winery. Not a new grape variety, but one that is so well suited to the warm weather. Warm weather, in case you haven’t noticed, has started. And that includes our lovely humidity. So, as we do every year, as the warm and humid come again, we are going to be looking for the appropriate wines. Lighter, chillable, and refreshing. And cost effective, too. I’m thinking we may have found such a wine this week. But, wait. We have to have our lesson first. That way our wine is better understood and appreciated. So, off we go.
Our wine is from Napa, California. From a relatively new winery called Mira. Mira is the creation of two men. Formed in 2009, (See how new?) by Jim “Bear” Dyke, Jr. and Gustavo Gonzales. Bear had a career in politics, in Washington, D C. Gustavo is a winemaker, and we’ll get back to him later. Mira Winery uses grapes from well known, Napa Valley AVAs – Stags Leap District, Los Carneros and Rutherford. Because of his many years working in Napa, Gustavo has great relationships with many of the best wine grape growers in Napa. This means he can get their grapes. This means he has resources for great wines. When we learn more about him, we’ll see how great.
Our grape variety from Mira is Sauvignon Blanc. Always a good variety for what we’re looking for this time of year. This is a green-skinned variety that originated in the Bordeaux region of France. Its name is probably from the French words “sauvage,” meaning “wild,” and “blanc,” which means “white.” Today, Sauvignon Blanc is grown in almost all the wine producing regions in the world. Interestingly, depending on the climate where it is grown, Sauvignon Blanc wines can have a variety of flavors in them. In warm climates, like South Africa, Australia, and California, the grapes bud late and do well when not exposed to overwhelming heat. That means in these warm areas, cooler growing sections are sought out for this variety. One of the original Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc wines was made by Robert Mondavi, Sr. In 1968, he had a particularly good crop of these grapes, and made the first “Fumé Blanc.” Seems, at that point, selling Sauvignon Blanc wine in the United States was way more difficult than now. So, he changed the name and the rest is history. Over the years, California Sauvignon Blanc wines became known for their grassy flavors and aggressive aromas. Mondavi, again, decided to tame some of that aggressiveness with barrel aging. Today, California wines from this variety fall into two types. Those in a more New Zealand style, with citrus and passion fruit nuances, tropical undertones and higher acidity levels. And, the Mondavi Fumé style, with rounder, less sharp acids, and melon flavors.
Because it means something to us, this week, we need to remember (which in all fairness I do know we’ve covered before, but I, for one, do not really remember) that Sauvignon Blanc first came to California in the 1880’s. Charles Wetmore, the founder of Cresta Blanca Winery brought cuttings from Sauternes vineyards in Bordeaux. From the great Chateau d’Yquem. He planted them in the Livermore Valley. South of our Napa Valley of today’s wine.
Moving on, let’s get back to our winemaker, Gustavo Gonzales. Gustavo has been making wines for more than two decades. He studied at the University of California, at Davis and Berkeley. He started work at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa first, in 1995, as a laboratory technician, then as winemaker, in 1999. And, he speaks five languages. Over the years, he has made wines in Burgundy, France, Argentina, Spain and Italy. Besides the United States. In Italy, in 2001, he helped make the 2001 vintage of Masseto, an Ornellaie wine, that received a one hundred point rating. That makes him really good in my book. And, that means we should have a really good wine this week!
For a moment, now, let’s look at Sauvignon Blanc’s flavors. Generally, fruit flavors in its wines include green apple, Asian pear, kiwi, passion fruit, quava, white peach, nectarine, lime. Other flavors include green bell pepper, gooseberry, jalapeño, grass, tarragon, lovage, celery, lemongrass, chalk, wet concrete. Flavors in Sauvignon Blanc wines that have some barrel aging include vanilla, pie crust, dill, coconut, butter and nutmeg. When you are pairing a Sauvignon Blanc wine with foods, the more you know about the wines’ flavors, the better the pairing will be. Greener style Sauvignon Blancs go with green flavors in your foods. That means herb flavors. So, a salsa with fresh tomatoes, onions and cilantro will go really well with a wine with herb flavors. Even if the herbs are not exactly the same, the nuances will work. For meats, white meats like chicken, pork loin, turkey all work well. And fish – Tilapia, Sea Bass, Halibut, crab, lobster, clams, mussels, Snapper – all pair well. For cheeses, softer more briny and sour types work well. Like goat cheeses, yogurt and crème fraîche. Green vegetables and fattier vegetarian dishes do well with these wines. Hummus. White bean casserole. White lasagnas.
Finally, phew, it’s time for our Sauvignon Blanc. The Mira 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is light and crisp. It is one hundred percent this grape, one hundred percent Napa Valley, and all organically grown. Its flavors include white peach, ripe grapefruits and citrus blossoms. Plus minerality. There is intensity in this wine along with perfectly balanced acidity. Ninety-five percent of the wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. Whole clusters of grapes are pressed for fermentation. The other five percent is aged in French oak barrels for nine months. So, we should probably figure this is more a “New Zealand” style Napa Sauvignon Blanc. This means, for food, we can go all over. Poultry, seafood, shellfish – all grilled, roasted, fried, and even raw when applicable. Goat cheeses. Spread on garlic brushed toasted bread slices, topped with fresh cut herbs of your choice. Local tomatoes. Sorry, but that’s enough. I’m getting hungry and thirsty. Mira, Mira in my glass. Who can pour me some really fast? For $11.97. Enjoy.