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Of the quality white wines of North America, sauvignon blanc is the bargain variety. For while you can’t touch a famous-name Napa or Sonoma chardonnay for under $40 a bottle retail, there isn’t a single sauvignon blanc that costs that much. Most, including some of the best, sell for a mere $15� — $25. The way in which California sauvignon blancs are made varies widely. A few wine makers, taking their cue from growers in the Loire Valley of France (think Sancerre and Pouilly-Fum�), make 100 percent sauvignon blancs that see no time in oak barrels. The top contenders, however, tend to treat their sauvignon blancs — they’re sometimes labeled “fum� blanc” — to at least some oak aging. All things considered, I’d far rather drink a clean and pure sauvignon blanc straight from the stainless steel tank than one ruined by heavily charred new oak. Too much of that “toasty new oak” is the kiss of death for sauvignon blanc. As always with fine wines, balance is everything. Our case of the month ranges from some great-value, unoaked examples all the way up to the top of the heap. You might begin with the more austere, unoaked Beaulieu and Dry Creek bottlings. Either would be perfect for washing down those little Kumomoto oysters on the half shell. Then step up to Beringer’s “Alluvium” — a blend of sauvignon and the rather more beeswaxy, honeyed semillon grape. I can’t think of a better lobster-in-cream-sauce kind of wine. The Caymus, especially, but also “La Petite Etoile” from Ch�teau St. Jean in the Sonoma Valley, are marked by quite a bit of new oak, but they’re both packed with fruit as well. Either would go nicely with seared sea scallops. Last year I tasted an even better sauvignon blanc, one from Rochioli, at a Christie’s auction house lunch. It was served with a famous white Graves from Bordeaux. Everyone in the room left there raving about the Rochioli. Enough said. The best of all, to my mind, is the wonderful Peter Michael “L’Apr�s-Midi.” Drink it by itself — and savor the nose and palate of a great wine. CALIFORNIA DRY 1997 Beaulieu Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($11) 1997 Dry Creek Vineyards Sonoma Fum� Blanc ($12) 1997 Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($15) 1997 Beringer “Alluvium Proprietary White Knight’s Valley” ($17) 1999 St. Sup�ry Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($13) 1996 Dry Creek Vineyards Fum� Blanc Sonoma Reserve ($18) 1997 Grgich Hills Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($20) 1997 Caymus Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($25) 1997 Ch�teau St. Jean Fum� Blanc “La Petite Etoile Russian River” ($22) 1997 J. Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc “Russian River” ($25) 1997 Robert Mondavi Fum� Blanc “To-Kalon Estate Reserve Napa” ($30) 1997 Peter Michael Sauvignon Blanc “L’Apr�s-Midi” Sonoma ($35)

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