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posted: 4/21/2010 12:01 AM

Sauvignon Blanc steps up to the plate

Good wine

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The most improved grape these days is Sauvignon Blanc, at least according to this white wine lover.

It started when New Zealand and Chile tickled America's palates with their pure, racy flavors; flavors as complex as fine French Sauvignon and more refreshing than California's barrel-treated, lugubrious wines and at far less cost.

Our Golden State winemakers responded by throwing their "poor man's Chardonnay" concept of Sauvignon out the window, eliminating oaky padding to reveal a luscious array of fruit and texture.

Then, the whole world stepped up its game.

So now, whether you enjoy tooth-tingling acidity, plush tropical fruit or green bell pepper snap; whether you want a refreshing cocktail or rich sophistication; whether you dine on moules mariniere or sushi, Greek chicken or pollo con salsa verde, antipasto or picnic salads, somewhere in the world, somewhere there's a Sauvignon Blanc just for you.

New Zealand The Marlborough region's sunny but cold climate ripens direct flavors (are we just imagining kiwi?) and relentless acidity. For powerful complexity look for Spy Valley ($20). Babich ($15) offers herb and apricot notes. For softer acid and pear-like fruitiness, choose Starborough ($15).

Chile Hot sun moderated by ocean breeze yields plump flavors brightened by moderate acidity. Casa Lapostolle ($12) is the leader in quality/value. I love Los Vascos ($11) for a limey-ness that reminds me of a classic Dacquiri.

California With tremendous variety of soil and climate, California Sauvignon Blanc includes the gentle, honeydew melon flavors of Cecchetti, Line 39 ($10); Brander ($20) with key lime vibrancy and herbal accents; the green bell pepper grip from Joel Gott ($15); the honeysuckle, mineral and stone fruit complexity of Merry Edwards ($30), the smoky-toasty flavors Chateau St. Jean's Fume Blanc ($10).

France Bordeaux and the Loire are France's two homes of great Sauvignon Blanc. The former balances savage Sauvignon with a blend of soft-flavored Semillon for broad texture and "rain on rocks" minerality. In the Loire, communes Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume produce 100 percent Sauvignon with powerful and direct flavors compared to gooseberries, grapefruit. Ask your retailer to recommend favorites, or turn to France's south for bargains such as this week's Ross' Choice.

• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross writes Good Wine. Contact her at