10 Versatile California Whites

New reviews of Sauvignon Blancs, Rhône-style whites and more

Augustus Weed
Posted: February 15, 2016

Chase the winter blues away with bold, refreshing Sauvignon Blancs or Rhône-style whites. They conjure images of the warmer days ahead while complementing a wide assortment of foods. Here are some picks to explore, starting at $15 a bottle.
Sauvignon Blanc is a versatile all-season sipper. California versions often receive some oak influence, which imparts additional richness and texture. Joseph Phelps produced a succulent bottling that was aged in 31 percent new French oak puncheons. Duckhorn’s elegant effort was partially barrel-fermented and blended with a dollop of Sémillon.
Rhône white grapes are heating up in California, powered mainly by Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. David Galzignato at Jada blends these grapes for additional complexity in the XCV cuvée. Smashberry takes a different approach, adding non-Rhône grapes such as Riesling and Muscat to its Roussanne for a supple and generous version.
Steve Clifton, who recently sold most of his stake in Brewer-Clifton, has an impressive showing with his Palmina label. Focusing on Italian grapes, he launched Palmina in 1995, producing the first wines in the basement of his home. This Pinot Grigio comes from the Honea vineyard, near the town of Los Olivos in Santa Barbara.
DUCKHORN Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2014 Score: 90 | $29 
Restrained and elegant, with pear and apple flavors that feature a light, juicy quality and highlights of lime zest. Shows echoes of white flowers on the finish. Drink now. 45,052 cases made.—M.W.
JADA XCV Paso Robles Willow Creek District 2014 Score: 90 | $38 
Complex and refreshing, bursting with peach blossom aromas and spice, mineral and almond skin accents, bolstered by grapefruit and pear notes. Everything comes together in harmony on the crisp finish. Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne. Drink now. 247 cases made.—M.W.
PALMINA Pinot Grigio Santa Barbara County 2014 Score: 90 | $20 Purchase
Delicious and robust, with plenty of floral and roasted nut notes, giving way to grilled melon and blood orange flavors, accented by a ripe pear hint. Smooth, finishing with crisp acidity. Drink now. 2,832 cases made.—M.W.
JOSEPH PHELPS Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena 2014 Score: 90 | $35 
The peach, nectarine and melon flavors have a terrific intensity, with toasted spice and green tea accents. A note of guava emerges on the succulent finish. Drink now. 2,700 cases made.—M.W.
PRIEST RANCH Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2014 Score: 89 | $22 
Vivid and floral, with honeycomb and candied ginger notes mingling with fleshy melon and nectarine flavors on a rich frame. Juicy acidity. Drink now. 2,100 cases made.—M.W.
ROMBAUER Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2015 Score: 89 | $24 
Tangy and vibrant, with lime, grapefruit and green apple flavors that are juicy and refreshing, showing plenty of intensity and a touch of Key lime pie on the finish. Drink now. 6,800 cases made.—M.W.
CAROL SHELTON Coquille Blanc Paso Robles 2014 Score: 89 | $24 
Vibrant peach and honeysuckle flavors mingle with vanilla custard and toast on a smooth and creamy body. Features enough acidity to keep the flavors fresh. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne. Drink now. 670 cases made.—M.W.
SMASHBERRY White Central Coast 2013 Score: 89 | $15 
A generous mix of yellow raisin, honeysuckle, ripe melon and mango flavors that are supple and smooth, accented by toasted cedar and spice. Juicy finish. Roussanne, Riesling and Muscat Canelli. Drink now. 4,060 cases made.—M.W.
CHATEAU ST. JEAN Fumé Blanc Alexander Valley Lyon Vineyard Single Vineyard 2014 Score: 88 | $22 
The spicy lemon, peach and honeysuckle notes are fragrant and smooth, with a lingering, crisp acidity. Drink now. 744 cases made.—M.W.
FOXEN Chenin Blanc Santa Maria Valley Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Old Vines 2014 Score: 88 | $25 
Yellow apple and pear flavors are rich and accented by yellow raisin and chamomile details, set on a smooth body, with a juicy finish. Drink now. 1,270 cases made.—M.W.