Summer in Southern California this year has been warmer, and more humid, than in years past. This has had me gravitating towards more white and rose wines than I normally would. There's nothing quite like a refreshing, crisp glass of wine at the end of a hot day.
On a recent Friday evening, I was fortunate enough to try Desparada's Explorer Sauvignon Blanc 4-pack with some of my friends. For those of you who aren't familiar with Desparada, it's a small production winery located in Tin City in Paso Robles, CA. Vailia, the winemaker, loves working with Italian and Bordeaux varietals. Her wines are bold, smooth, and so well balanced they always leave you wanting another glass. Vailia's production of wine is approximately 50/50 between red and white wine, which is not typical for a wine maker. She loves working with Sauvignon Blanc so much, it comprises most of the white wine she makes. Her 2019 Explorer Series highlights Sauvignon Blanc. All four bottles in the series have grapes sourced from two vineyards along the central coast: 50% from Presqu'ile and 50% from Chelle Mountain. All other aspects of the wine making process are the same EXCEPT the vessels they were fermented in. She chose to do this to highlight the effects a vessel can have on the wine. Her four vessels of choice were amphora, new French oak, neutral French oak, and new acacia.
Prior to my friends arriving, I was sure to allow the wines time to come to an appropriate temperature (about 50-55 degrees F for a bold white like this). I also gave everyone their wine in a universal style wine glass that was labeled with each type of vessel. I wanted to make sure we had as fair of a comparison as possible by using the same style glass not only for each wine, but for each person. For a horizontal tasting like this I wanted to keep my variable factors at a minimum. Each wine looked the same with a hazy lemon color. This is due to the fact that the Sauvignon Blanc is made unfiltered which makes the body, viscosity and flavor profile thrive.
Azha - Amphora
Let's start with the bottle made in amphora. Vailla is known for making wine in this type of vessel and, in my opinion, she does a phenomenal job with it. Amphora is a clay pot that comes in varying shapes and sizes. These pots have been used for centuries to store and carry wine as well as other goods, such as olive oil. It can be buried in the ground, partially buried, or fully above ground. Winemakers use this vessel for fermenting and/or aging their wines. Amphora doesn't impart any flavor to the wine like a newer wood barrel would, however it is still pourus, like wood, and allows breath ability to the wine. This will influence how the wine evolves.
On the nose, the wine had a nice minerality to it along with some stone fruits and citrus notes, like lemon. The palate was bold with medium + acidity and similar flavors as the nose like stone fruit, lemon and more minerality. The finish lingered on with minerality and some lemon and left me excited for my next sip.
Azmidi - New French Oak
Many people are familiar with French oak barrels being used for making wine. However, it is not the most popular vessel used for a varietal such as Sauvignon Blanc, especially in the New World. The oak on this barrel was lightly toasted and imparted body and creamier notes than the other wines. Depending on the style of Sauvignon Blanc the wine maker is wanting to make, they may not choose to influence the wine with the flavors from French oak.
I could sniff out this wine easily as being the French oak bottle, even with my eyes closed! Oak, butter and some fruit elements like yellow apple and lemon were found on the nose. As with the amphora bottle, the palate was bold and had nice acidity, along with being very similar to the nose. The butteriness become more prevalent on the palate as the wine warmed up further. The same lingering finish was there in this bottle, but instead of more fruity notes staying on the palate, this bottle was more buttery.
Atria - Neutral
The next bottle was made in a neutral French oak barrel. What this means is the barrel had already been used at least three times and won't be imparting any oak flavors to the wine. The wine will still get the benefit of the pourus nature of the wood and allow oxygen transfer through wood to evolve the wine. So this is considered the "base line" bottle.
We found that the nose and palate had mostly citrus elements, like lemon, as we had seen in the other bottles. I enjoyed the soft floral notes I got on the nose as well. The palate was bold with medium+ acidity and had some minerality, lemon and more floral notes as well. Out of all the wines, I would say this one had citrus stand out the most. The finish lingered with lemon and drew me in for more.
Avior - New Acacia
The last vessel I actually had to do a little research on during our tasting as I wasn't familiar with it. Acacia will add a whole different mouth feel than the other vessels, and, I'd have to agree from our tasting. Acacia wood is derived from the Australian-native Acacia trees and shrubs, and has become more prevalent in Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, and parts of the Americas. It is growing in popularity as more winemakers are using it for Sauvignon Blanc in Sonoma County and along the central coast.
This wine was definitely a big wine! The nose on this was very prominent with floral, citrus and some tropical fruits. The body was very full and had a nice thicker texture, which was nicely complimented with the medium+ acidity. The same flavors from the nose continued on the palate, which I enjoyed because I like wines that have floral notes to them. Another long, lingering finish which seemed to hold true with all of these bottles. Just my style!
And the favorite was...
To note, all the wines appeared the same in the glass and had very similar flavors on the nose and palate. The wines were dry, acidity medium/medium+, full body, pronounced intensity and ended with a long lasting finish. Overall, the majority of the group voted for the amphora as their favorite. Each person had slightly different rankings for the rest of the bottles but all agreed the amphora highlighted the Sauvignon Blanc well. We all had a great time analyzing these wines, watching them evolve over the course of the tasting and picking out the similarities and differences. It is pretty remarkable the impact a vessel has on the wine. My inner wine nerd was loving this tasting and all I got to learn first hand by trying the wines side by side. I'd highly recommend it. If you want to try the Explorer Sauvignon Blanc 4-pack for yourself, click the link below to order one for your next wine gathering.