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A Lively Sauvignon Blanc

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week

2009 Franciscan Estate Sauvignon Blanc

Price: $17

Region: Napa Valley, California

Grape: 100 percent sauvignon blanc
Alcohol: 12.8 percent
Serve: Goes well with shellfish, light fish, goat cheeses, lighter pasta, mustard chicken

Sauvignon blanc has become my go-to white. When faced with a wine list full of mysterious choices, I know I can’t go wrong by choosing this varietal. It’s got plenty of edgy, tart personality, pairs wonderfully with a wide range of dishes, and its price tag rarely causes sticker shock.

Franciscan Estate’s latest vintage of this grape hits the right notes: fresh, clean, herby aromas, mouthwatering acidity, cleansing mineral-laced flavors and a liveliness that’s all too often missing in California examples. For one thing, the alcohol level is a restrained 12.8%, an exception in a marketplace full of heavy, blunt sauvignons that weigh in at 14 percent or more. As a result, this pale yellow-green wine has the ideal lightness and lift for a pre-dinner aperitif.

Winemaker Janet Myers drew on several Napa Valley sub-appellations for the grapes, then treated the lots differently to enhance their different characteristics: cold fermentation for those that promised mineral hints, skin contact for fruitier lots. A small portion was fermented in neutral barrels.

What comes out in the glass is a distinctive lime zest taste and a refreshing, almost grapefruity tartness that recalls the live-wire zinginess of New Zealand sauvignons coupled with the kind of stony terroir notes found in examples from the Loire.

All of this opens up a surprising number of food pairings. Its squeeze-of-lemon acidity makes it a fine foil for shellfish — oysters, crab, lobster — and lighter fish like sole, even poached salmon. And its mineral and herb flavors point to pairing with goat cheeses, lighter pasta dishes and mustard chicken. And the price is very modest.

The only drawback? This bottle should use a screwcap, both for convenience and the reliability of always finding a wine with freshness underneath the stopper.

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”