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The three most important groups are formed by the wines of the sauterne, white burgundy, and rhine wine types. Three lesser groups are constituted by the minor white table wines, by those of the white muscat types and by the white specialty wines.
CALIFORNIA SAUTERNE TYPES:
Calfornia sauterne is usually spelled without the final "s" of French Sauternes. A few wine growers use the French spelling, but the general tendency is toward the shorter, Americanized form.
Sauterne is produced in California from a great variety of grapes, from the finest to the indifferent. The best are derived from Semillon and Sauvignon blanc grapes, while lesser varieties include Sauvignon vert, Palomino, or Golden Chasselas, and many others, including Thompson Seedless, essentially a raisin and table grape. If a truly fine sauterne is desired, the name of a well-known qualitywine grower is essential on the label.
California sauterne, the most popular of the generic white table wines, ranges from dry to very sweet in character, from straw to golden in color, while its bouquet and flavor depend on the grapes used for its production.
The three main generic types are, according to sugar content, "California Sauterne" (medium dry or medium sweet), "California Dry Sauterne," and "California Sweet Sauterne:" The term "California Haut Sauterne" is also used for the medium-sweet and sweet wines, and "Chateau" for the sweetest types. The exact degree of dryness or sweetness of any particular sauterne depends on the producer's judgment.
The two great varietals of the California sauterne family are Semillon, which is generally considered the finest, and its close rival Sauvignon Blanc.
Use and Service-California sauterne is an all-purpose white table wine, the dry and medium wines being most appropriate with all the lighter meats, plain fish, and seafood courses, and also with chicken and other fowl. Chill for about two hours. Sweet sauternes are most suitable with rich, creamed dishes of any kind and with sweet desserts. Chill for about three hours.
All fine wines of the sauterne order are popular in cooking, especially those with the most flavor. So-called "Cooking Sauterne" should be avoided as ineffectual. Sauternes make a good base for white wine punches and cups.
VARIETALS - SEMILLON (Sem-me-yon):
One of the finest white wine grapes of the world and responsible for most of the character of the famous chateau-bottled Sauternes of France.
Superior Semillon wines are produced in California in the northern coastal region and the grapes, as in France, can be made to yield a naturally sweet wine by allowing them to become overripe, causing a slight and desirable raisining.
Semillons, the finest of the California sauternes, are golden, medium- to full-bodied, full-flavored, and have a flowerlike bouquet. There are two main types, the more typical and slightly more expensive sweet Semillon and the Dry Semillon. Some Semillon is also available in the medium range.
Outstanding Semillons, both sweet and dry, with a special fullness of body, bouquet, and flavor, originate in the Livermore Valley of Alameda County, noted as the home of the finest sauterne-type wines of the state. Dry Semillons of high quality, and some sweet, are also produced in Santa Clara, Napa and Sonoma counties.
SAUVIGNON BLANC (So-vee-nyon Blon):
The second most important varietal member of the sauterne family. It is the principal grape variety used in the production of the white Graves wines of France and is also important in that of French Sauternes. Known in France as Sauvignon, it is called Sauvignon blanc in California to distinguish it from the grape named Sauvignon vert, which is not comparable in any way in the quality and character of the wines it yields.
In California the Sauvignon blanc produces high-quality wines with a distinctive aromatic character, fuller in body, and heavier than the Semillons. The finest hail from the Livermore Valley in Alameda County, while some excellent ones are also produced in the Santa Clara and Napa valleys.
Sauvignon Blanc ranges from dry to sweet with the dry types more typical and better known. The grapes flourish particularly well in gravelly soil and the resulting wines could be called the Graves type if it were not sounder to consider California wines on their own merits.
The origin of this vine is obscure. It is very productive and widely cultivated, being much used in California sauterne of average quality and in blending.
The varietal wine, bottled notably in Mendocino, Solano, and Napa counties, can be quite pleasing with its own dry character and slight muscat flavor.
Sauvignon vert, the grape, is also known as the Colombard, but should not be confused with the French Colombard from which the wine of that name is produced.
GENERICS - California Sweet Sauterne:
The sweetest of the California generic sauternes, golden and fullbodied.
Some wine growers prefer to call their sweet sauterne "California Haut Sauterne," while others produce both wines, reserving the "Haut Sauterne" name for the medium-sweet type. It may be noted that this term, meaning literally "High Sauterne," is actually meaningless and should also not be pronounced as "Hot," which sounds peculiar, to say the least, but rather as "Oht:" In France the term has no official recognition and is only tolerated. The grapes are not grown on higher ground, nor is the wine of higher quality. In California the term has come to mean a sauterne type, sweeter than that labeled simply as "Sauterne."
Some of the finest California sweet sauternes are produced from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon blanc grapes with the sporadic addition of a little of the Muscadelle du Bordelais variety, this being the formula for the great chateau-bottled Sauternes of France. Such California sauternes are sometimes bottled under the "Chateau" appellation, followed by the name of the winegrower or of the winery.
The medium-dry or medium-sweet type of sauterne, varying from straw to golden in color and from medium to full in body.
This wine, the most in demand of the generic white table types, varies exceedingly in quality, according to the producer and the grapes used.
California Dry Sauterne
The driest of the sauterne group and actually not so much a sauterne as a dry white table wine. As with all sauternes, the best are derived from Semillon or Sauvignon blanc grapes and these are of high quality. Others vary considerably, the cheaper kinds being often similar, and sometimes identical to California chablis.