Sassy Sauvignon Blanc

   By Erin Coopey  Aug 23, 2010
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Remember when I referenced Karen MacNeil’s description of Sauvignon Blanc in Wine Tasting Without FearKaren 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?
 

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Bunnycas by Bunnycas | Norman, OK
Apr 18, 2011

Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc is awesome! Not too sweet and crisp!

AnnaJane by AnnaJane | Lake Charles, LA
Oct 16, 2010

Great info, Chef Erin . . . including the bit about Mondavi creating marketing terms. You asked about other wines--how 'bout Pinot Grigio?

ChefErin by ChefErin | SEATTLE, WA
Oct 14, 2010

All - as a side note, if you see wine called Fume Blanc it's really a Sauvignon Blanc. Fume Blanc is just a marketing term made up by Robert Mondavi. ~ Chef Erin

GINGER8051 by GINGER8051 | MARQUETTE, MI
Sep 03, 2010

One of my favorite wines.

ChefErin by ChefErin | SEATTLE, WA
Sep 01, 2010

Glad we have so many Sauvignon Blanc drinkers! Are there any other wines you'd like to hear more about? ~ Chef Erin

Jrc3168 by Jrc3168 | Bronx, NY
Aug 30, 2010

Savignon Blanc is one of my favorite white wines. It's lighter than most chardonnays or pinots, and very refreshing. Especially great in the summer months. I'm excited to try the recipe above.

marriedgirl27 by marriedgirl27 | FULTON, NY
Aug 26, 2010

I love wine tasting its such a fun way to spend and afternoon!

Gin257 by Gin257 | LONG BEACH, NY
Aug 24, 2010

thank you for the artical on Sauvignon Blanc! One of my favorite wines!

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