On Snobs and Sauvignon Blanc

I’m a sucker for bomb throwers. That’s probably why I really liked reading Mike Steinberger’s article on Slate today entitled, "White Lies: Why Sauvignon Blanc is Overrated"

"Simply put, the grape (Sauvignon Blanc) is a dud, producing chirpy little wines wholly
devoid of complexity and depth, the very qualities that make wine
interesting and worth savoring. For years, this offensively inoffensive
grape has escaped criticism while chardonnay and merlot have been scorned. The free ride ends here."

Of course he’s wrong about Sauvignon Blanc, and I suspect he knows he is. But that’s not the point. Steinberger’s bomb is thrown with such aplomb and with just enough categorical statements that he clearly is looking for a response.

"Astonishingly, there are people, among them some wine writers, who
contend that sauvignon blanc creates wines of great character and
verve. I’d love to know which sauvignon blancs they’ve been drinking. I
taste dozens each year, and character and verve are two qualities most
of them sorely lack. Sure, they tend to have distinctive bouquets, with
heady aromas of grass, citrus, gooseberry, gunflint, and chalk—or some
combination thereof. But this excitement is reserved for the nose; all
the mouth gets is a limp, lemony liquid that grows progressively more
boring with each sip. Sauvignon blancs almost never evolve in the
glass—they simply fill the space."

It would be way to predictable to remind Mike about Mondavi To-Kalon I-Block, Rochioli’s Reserve, Voss’ great efforts, the Fume Blanc of Dry Creek Vineyards or any number of Sauvignon Blancs that deliver not just fine aromas, but wonderfully interesting and satisfying flavor. So I won’t.

Instead, I’ll note that Mike’s article did what it was supposed to do: it generated lots of passionate and considered comments. The type that intrigue me most are those that accuse him of "snobbery:

"I don’t know about Sauvignon Blanc, but I do know for sure one thing
that is overrated by far: pretensions of wine snobbery. Who cares?"

It should be noted that criticism, literary criticism, which Mike is engaging in, is no really about being a snob, though a certain amount of discernment (snobbery) is necessary to be a good critic. To accuse a critic of being a snob for voicing their opinion is like criticizing a football coach for developing a game plan: That’s what they do. And they either do it well or they don’t. Mike does it well.

7 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - April 18, 2006

    Excuse me for thinking that Sancerre can be a great wine!

  2. Catherine Granger - April 18, 2006

    It looks like Mike Steinberger forgets to eat while he is drinking. Sauvignon Blanc, when fresh and crisp, is a wonderful food-friendly wine, and enhances the flavors of any crab, lobster, oysters, etc.
    With a more complex fare, why not try a Graves?

  3. Bradley - April 18, 2006

    I find it odd that anyone would choose to denigrate an entire grape varietal. There are great sauvignons made and there are poor ones. To say otherwise is to throw a bomb (like this Mike fellow does)to provoke some rhetoric. Reminds me of the business owner who hired his own protesters to march out front of his store to get in the newspapers and tv news. I hear this kind of stuff all the time from people who are just learning about wine. They fall in love with a couple varieties or a house or a country and plateau there for a while, waiting for their palate to catch up. Probably not Mike, though.

  4. Trish - April 18, 2006

    It’s rash, of course, to write off a whole varietal, but isn’t that the fun of what Mr. Steinberger’s doing here? Incredible sauvignon blanc certainly exists. I, personally, adore Sancerre, but doesn’t anyone else’s teeth stand on edge when they hear someone relatively new to wine (or at the very lease cautious about the subject) sing the praises of their new favorite, completely generic SB? “I love Australian sauvignon blanc!” they’ll say. And we’ll all roll our eyes. It has become the new scapegoat wine, like chardonnay, which it seems has come full circle. Overly produced, known to the masses but greatly, perhaps, misunderstood.
    But let’s not kid ourselves. Come July, even Mr. Steinberger’s going to be reaching for a cool, crisp, grassy, (gasp!) lemony SB. I know I will.

  5. tom - April 19, 2006

    Very well put, Tricia!!

  6. Jerry - April 20, 2006

    Sauvignon Blancs are very palate-cleansing, not to mention affordable. The range of styles and flavors is vast. For those who have a budget and want to enjoy wine daily, Sauvignon Blancs are a staple.
    Everyone knows red wine drinkers who won’t drink any white wine, so it’s not surprising that some white wine drinkers don’t like Sauvignon Blanc.
    I’m not saying they’re monumental wines. In fact, I agree that the excitement is typically in the aroma for S.B., just as posited by M.S.

  7. Dave Parkes - December 1, 2006

    you don’t drink SB for Depth and character, yu drink it for citrusy, grassy, summery memories, when its September in the UK hacking it down and you want to remember we had a summer, “like it, buy it drink it…nuff said”

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