Right now, there are two main types of California Chardonnay.
The classic style is rich and buttery. These wines are often aged in oak and feature big, ripe fruit flavors. For a well-balanced example, try Au Bon Climat “Los Alamos” Chardonnay. It is oaked, but judiciously so; it has a pleasantly creamy feel on the palate, but the oak never goes over the top.
On the other hand, more and more California Chardonnays are now made in something approaching an “Old World” style: They use far less oak, or they touch only neutral oak, or they don’t see any oak at all. The producers of these crisp, elegant wines often seek out California’s cooler climates, in order to keep the grapes’ ripeness in check and preserve their acidity. For a tasty example of a subtler Chardonnay, try the Johnson Family Chardonnay from Sonoma. It shows plenty of depth, with flavors of apple, pear, and pineapple; there is a light hint of oak that never overpowers the fresh fruit.
California makes some of the best Chardonnays in the world, and most wine drinkers are familiar with them. If you’re looking to branch out a little, California Sauvignon Blanc is an exciting way to go: It has all of the fun, friendly appeal of Chardonnay, and nearly as much stylistic variation.
Sometimes labeled “Fumé Blanc” in California, Sauvignon Blanc is fresh, clean, and aromatic. The grape is a chameleon, utterly at the whim of the winemaker. It may be fermented in barrel or in stainless steel. Some Sauvignon Blancs reveal notes of citrus and grapefruit, while others tend towards tropical fruits, and still others display a lovely herbal quality. Cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc can be crisp and light; warmer climates can produce big, rich, and (when combined with extended oak aging) very robust wines.
Sauvignon Blanc is incredibly versatile, and considered one of the “food-friendliest” wines on the market. Goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc is a classic pairing: pick up some bread, some chevre, and a bottle of Sean Minor 4B Sauvignon Blanc and you’ll see why.
Brightly flavored Sauvignon Blancs are a great match for mildly spicy foods, and their vibrant acidity makes them great with rich, creamy dishes that would be bogged down by weightier wines. Whether you’re sitting down to chicken biryani or a sauced Chilean sea bass, there’s a Sauvignon Blanc that will make it taste better.