I sat down for breakfast with Augustin Fransisco Huneeus, proprietor of his family’s eponymous Huneeus Vineyards a while ago. He was an energetic fountain of early-morning conversation the likes for which I was mentally unprepared. If the name Huneeus isn’t familiar, I’d point you to the family’s historic organic and biodynamic estate in the Rutherford area of Napa Valley. From that property comes one of Napa’s highest-regarded wines: Quintessa. But I was equally curious about a grape that certainly doesn’t get a lot of due that shows up in a most unique bottling: Illumination Sauvignon Blanc.
So I had Huneeus send me a sample bottle.
Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($50)
Wow, this was a dang amazing bottle. Illumination was like no other Sauvignon Blanc I’ve had. Rich and golden, with the zestiness of the grape playing more of a supporting role than dominating like in an unoaked SB. This is probably the most serious Sauv Blanc I’ve had outside of Sancerre/the Loire and Bordeaux. If you like rich white wines and looking for something that would be ungodly good with lobster, this is your wine.
And that makes sense. Per Senior Marketing Manager Laura Gabriel, Illumination started in 2006 so the family would have a wine for seafood and to serve at winery receptions. (That’s as good of a reason I can think for making a wine.)
The wine is a blend of 40% Sauvignon Blanc Musque, 53% Sauvignon Blanc, and 7% Semillon. The juice also spends time split among a wide variety of pre-bottle homes. You got some French oak barrels (6% in new, 66% in neutral). Toss in some acacia barrels (5% new). How about some concrete egg fermenters (11%)? Finally, some crispy stainless steel barrels (12%).
Illumination’s grapes come from Napa and Sonoma. Estate fruit from cooler patches on the property is supplemented with Sauv Blanc further south in Napa as well as Bennett Valley in Sonoma. (The 2017 is almost split evenly between fruit from the two regions.)
There’s a tendency for people to look at red wine as the “special” wine. The one you gift. The one you consider splurging on. The Illumination Sauvignon Blanc is a wine that makes the case for white wines being worthy of all that. And for a white wine lover like me, I’d rather spend my $$$ on something unique. There’s very little new oak so it’s not powerfully oaky but the texture it provides is luscious. Yes, it would be amazing with rich seafood but it’s a wine that’s fantastic to drink and contemplate on its own.
Another thing I like about this wine is it helps redefine Sauvignon Blanc. It can be cheap and good, for sure. Can Sauv Blanc be great? A lot of people (including fancy wine folks/somms) would say, “Nah.” But Illumination is, well, illuminating.
Also Sauv Blanc is a grape I enjoy with oak because it tames its aggression. And when well-made, the grape still peeks through to say “Hey, what’s up?” in a most welcome way.
My only beef with this bottle is…the bottle. Very heavy glass. Not a fan.
Otherwise, this is one of the most memorable, original Sauvignon Blancs I’ve ever had.