For a long time I thought that Fumé Blanc was a grape. After all, it appears every now and then on a bottle of California white wine in the same section as bottles with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc on the label. I figured it was some obscure grape that only a few vineyards grew which is why I did not see it very often. Well, there is no such grape. Fumé Blanc is actually Sauvignon Blanc under another name.
In the late 60s Sauvignon Blanc was not well liked in the US. It was too sweet and grassy and nothing like the revered but rarely consumed Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley in France. One harvest, Robert Mondavi got a stellar crop of SB and knew he could make a fantastic wine from those grapes but he was worried people would not buy the wine. So he made up the name Fumé Blanc to overcome the SB negativity and created a perception that this new wine was akin to Pouilly-Fumé (a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire).
What did he do differently? Well, he put the wine through malolactic fermentation which is a process that converts malic acid to lactic acid. This softens the wine and is quite often used in the Chardonnay wine making process, and rarely in Sauvignon Blanc wine making (BTW, all red wines go through this process). In addition, he aged the wine in oak barrels to add some different flavors and texture to the wine, again common when making Chardonnay.
What was the result? According the WiseGeek.com, “Only two years after founding his now-legendary winery, he (Robert Mondavi) transformed one of California’s scorned grapes into one of its most loved – using a single batch of good grapes and a healthy dose of shrewd marketing.”
A few wineries make Fumé Blanc but there are no standards or rules around making this type of wine. I picked up a bottle of the Ferrari-Carano wine as they are well known for theirs. I wanted to see if this wine tasted more like a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc, or find out if it was something completely different.
The verdict? A lovely wine. Quite different than any California Sauvignon Blanc I have ever tried, but definitely not a Chardonnay. There is a little touch of sweetness on the finish, but just a touch. This is definitely a dry wine. It is light in body like a SB with lush fruits on the nose (a little peach or melon perhaps?). None of the tart sweetness that I sometimes find in SBs that does not suit my palette. I could easily enjoy a glass on the porch in the afternoon or with dinner. This wine would pair very nicely with my beloved brie and red grapes.