Remember when I referenced Karen MacNeil’s description of Sauvignon Blanc in Wine Tasting Without Fear? Karen sometime refers to Sauvignon Blanc as being like "stiletto heels." To be sure, Sauvignon Blanc can be a bit challenging in comparison to the more commonly consumed California Chardonnay, but like any challenge the reward is usually worth it. So, here’s the secret: Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best food wines out there! What I mean by that is the wine doesn’t overpower food, it plays well with it.
First let’s start with the name because it gives us a clue about the wine - Sauvignon comes from the French word sauvage which means wild, savage. The sauvignon blanc is a wild child full of acidity, grassy flavors, green herbs, tart fruits, flinty minerals. It is intense -- in a good way. You could sum up Sauvignon Blanc with one word - "green."
The best regions in the world for growing Sauvignon Blanc include France’s Loire Valley, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, South Africa, Chile, and Northern California. Cooler climates help Sauvignon Blanc retain its green intensity. Grapes from warmer regions have more ripe tropical flavors though they will still have a greenness.
European Sauvignon Blanc often has a mineral flavor--imagine the smell of rocks after rain. While wines from Australia and New Zealand are definitely green and often have light tropical fruit flavors. Californian Sauvignon Blanc are sometimes softer or rounder than those produced in other parts of the world. This is due to climate and processing. Typically, Sauvignon Blanc spends little or no time in oak barrels but some winemakers age a small portion of their Sauvignon Blanc in oak to tone down some of the stronger herbal acidity and make the wine more approachable for the American palate.
I like some of the more challenging Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with food, but for sipping, California Sauvignon Blanc can be light and refreshing without twisting your mouth into a pucker. Try some from different regions to see what you like best.
With all this talk about savage, wild, green flavors you might wonder why Sauvignon Blanc would be an appealing food wine. Let’s do a little visualization. Imagine a simple fruit salad of grapes, melon, strawberries, etc. It would taste good, right? Imagine the sweetness, texture, and ripeness of the fruit. Now, imagine a little squeeze of lemon juice added to it. The tartness of the lemon adds another dimension to the fruit, it sparks up the melon, adds brightness to the strawberries. You’ve gone from good fruit salad to really good fruit salad. It’s the acidity that livens your palate.
Sauvignon Blanc works the same way. It’s light, refreshing, palate-cleansing, acidic. The key when pairing Sauvignon Blanc with food is to try to pair it with lighter foods. It’s great with goat cheese, chicken, grilled or sautéed fish, shellfish -- particularly oysters, herbs -- especially cilantro and basil, tomatoes and vegetables. It’s a light bodied wine so avoid heavy dishes loaded with cream, butter or red meat.
One of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc pairings is Pan Seared Scallops with Green Papaya Slaw. The dish features a hint of lime, fresh cilantro and scallops. Trust me, it’s a perfect match.
What to look for: Sauvignon Blanc from cool climates
Price: Sauvignon Blanc runs the gamut but you should be able to find some that you like for around $10 per bottle from California and starting around $14 for imports.
What to eat it with: Appetizers, salads, light dishes, foods that are herby or acidic
Have you ever tried Sauvignon Blanc? Have you tried any from outside the United States?