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Wine of the Week

Sybaritic Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc purists will not like this wine. It’s big and juicy and rich for an SB, with none of that thin, mouth-puckering quality one finds in all too many Sancerres, nor the aggressive gooseberry flavor that afflicts New Zealand versions.

Rather it has a richness that’s unapologetically decadent while at the same time showing a deep minerality and refreshing acidity that keeps the whole thing in harmony and balance.

As owner and winemaker Doug Margerum explained to me about this week’s Wine of the Week, the Margerum Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($21) “seems like the perfect name for that wine, because it has that combination of elegance and delicacy along with that rich thing you would expect sybarites to drink.”


While the making of any wine is a complex process imperfectly understood even today, the secret of Sybarite lies in two main factors.

To begin with, it comes from Happy Canyon, the new AVA (American Viticultural Area) at the eastern, and warmest, end of the Santa Ynez Valley.

“The first thing you need to know is that Happy Canyon is a very special place for growing Sauvignon Blanc because we get that ripeness without a lot of sugar. It’s cool, but it’s not cold, so you don’t get the grassy thing going on, but it’s warm enough, so we ripen it very delicately vs. getting it superripe like where you get the honeydew-melon, Napa Valley Sauvignon characteristics.”


Then comes the work in the winery. Sybarite is fermented for a long time at very low temperatures and then aged in stainless steel tanks sur lies. (This is French wine speak for letting the wine age on the dead yeast cells left over from fermentation.) Most winemakers rack the new wine off the lies, as it’s easier to handle and results in a clean, if less interesting, wine.

“We do bâtonnage (stirring), stir those fine lies back up into the wine. The creaminess in the mouth comes from that super-sur-lies winemaking technique.”

I’ve never heard that term before, “super-sur-lies,” and rather suspect that Margerum has added a new expression to the winemaking lexicon.

He originally thought of calling the wine “Decadence,” but once he discovered “sybarite” he knew he had hit on the perfect descriptor, so Sybarite it became. And you can’t imagine a more appropriate name for this seductive, elegant Sauvignon Blanc.

To find this wine near you try Wine Searcher.

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: A little breathing helps

Food Pairing: Swordfish, salmon, tuna, lobster, richer sauces, pork, chicken

Grapes: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Appellation: Happy Canyon in Santa Barbara

Region: Southern California

Country: USA

Price: $21

Availability: Moderate

Web Site:

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.

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