In a normal winter, zinfandel and other warm and comforting reds are the wines to grab on nights frigid and damp. But this is no ordinary winter. January is shaping up as maybe the driest on record hereabouts, if not necessarily the warmest. Yet, yesterday was downright springlike, passably warm and sunglasses bright. Bring on the lighter foods and the chilled white wines.
Dinner last night, consequently, was an abundant salad, with tomatoes even, and pasta with a pesto sauce, the sort of spread we usually have in summer. The white wine was a new release, the Merry Edwards 2005 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($27), also the sort of bottle we have in summer.
Merry Edwards best is known for pinot noir, but in 2001 she added a small run of sauvignon blanc to her portfolio. It's been well received, and she's been increasing production. She made nearly 3,000 cases of the 2005, available only in restaurants, at her winery and on her Web site.
This is an unusual sauvignon blanc, in part because it's made with Musque clones of the variety, recognized for adding more floral overtones and richer texture to the final wine. Edwards also fermented the wine entirely in French oak barrels, only a small portion of which was new oak. Both techniques helped bring a fairly luxurious texture to the wine without leaving it heavy with oak. Indeed, the oak is barely perceptible, allowing the wine's melony, herbal, grapefruit and grassy flavors to shine. It's an elegant, composed, beautifully balanced sauvignon blanc. It isn't at all from the mold that is producing so many lean and metallic examples of the varietal today. There's room for that kind of sauvignon blanc, to be sure, but there's also room for a style of unusual refinement, lushness and maturity, and the Merry Edwards is it.
Edwards recommends the wine be poured with New England clam chowder, hake in parsley sauce, a spicy lobster bisque or Pacific lingcod with a Meyer lemon aioli. Its dry richness and solid structure also made it a swell companion with the pesto. Our only regret is that both the wine and the kind of weather that makes sauvignon blanc so fitting could disappear any day now.
The wine's eye-catching and carefree label, incidentally, is by Berkeley artist David Lance Goines, once of Carmichael. Edwards asked him to add a few more ribbons to his original drawing. Even so, federal regulators who oversee the appropriateness of the country's wine labels must have done a double-take before approving the artistry.