The Pefect Pair: Sauvignon Blanc

We’ve got a new column for ya called “The Perfect Pair.” This article is the primer for a full-on food and wine pairing series. My goal is to whet your palate with such wine pairing fervor; you?ll be a gourmet matchmaker in no time. I?ll focus on one varietal in each article, giving you wine pairing ideas and then in a following article an easy recipe to pair with the featured wine. This week?s varietal is Sauvignon Blanc.

We all know the rhetoric phrase: red wine with meat and white with fish and poultry. It?s poppycock! I swear if I hear it one more time! It has done irreparable damage to the novice wine drinker?s food pairing preconceptions. One of your new year?s resolutions should be to forget that hogwash. Or maybe a spring resolution. There are only two things you need remember to enjoy harmonious pairings.

The most important thing is to match the body of the wine with the body of dish: rich with rich, light with light and so on. Grilled swordfish with a lemon butter sauce and saut?ed veggies would go great with a Pinot Grigio, dry Chenin blanc, dry Riesling or a lighter, ?naked? or un-oaked Chardonnay. The key is to not overpower the dish with the wine or vice versa. Now, what if you added bacon, a teriyaki glaze and mushrooms to the swordfish? It takes on a totally different flavor profile. It is now richer and sweeter, thank you teriyaki, with smoky and earthy notes from the accompaniments. A sweeter more viscuous Riesling could work, a full bodied Chardonnay with a heavier dose of oak or an Oregon Pinot Noir would do the trick nicely. But, what if you don?t know the different body styles of wine?

Easy! This is where wine pairing rule #2 comes into play. Personal preferences supersede any recommendation or rule of thumb. If YOU like to drink Merlot with everything from Cheez-its to lobster, DO IT!

What does Sauvignon Blanc taste like? The grape?s bright vivid fruit qualities, ranging from lemon and lime to kiwi and mango, capture your attention immediately. While incessant aromas of freshly cut grass, herbs and gooseberries linger in the background. It is a straightforward wine of little contemplation, and rarely adulterated with oak. Try it with steamed mussels and clams, raw oysters and flaky white fish. Keep it away from anything with acidity, salads especially. Its capability to refresh our palate after each bite and complement food is sometimes beyond words. If you must drink it without food you should opt for the riper Southern hemisphere versions from South Africa, New Zealand or Chile.

Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best and affordable food wines we have available to us. Fact! Grown on every continent (minus Antarctica obvs), most quality SBs can be found for $20 or less. Fact! For the record though, its home is in the Loire Valley in France. The villages of Touraine, Reuilly, Quincy, Pouilly Fume & Sancerre produce the purest examples of Sauvignon Blanc the world has to offer. There they are best known for their expressive minerality (similar to a gun flint-like quality) and their balance. New Zealand SB is super hot right now and should be. The wines are reasonably priced and show their wild, flashy qualities like no other. Marlborough is still the best SB region there but keep an eye out for SBs from the Hawkes Bay region as well. California produces such a wide range of SB from Napa to Monterey so it?s hard to make a generic statement for each area. However, most of the producers there have taken a liking to the Bordeaux SB model. White Bordeaux from the Graves, Pessac Leognan and Entre Duex Mers regions of France is made from 70-99% Sauvignon Blanc with Semillon picking up the slack. Semillon rounds out SB?s rough edges (if any) and provides a fuller mouth feel with melon like fruit qualities. In the dessert wine, Sauternes, the roles are reversed and a small percentage of SB is added to give the wine acidity and liveliness. Semillon is also grown to a large extent in Australia.

The only caveat about Sauvignon Blanc is that its acidity can sometimes turn people off. As Americans we are very quick to put labels on things. I often find that a lot of people who have tried SB, withOUT food find it to be a little overwhelming. Unfortunately it is the least forgiving wine with indigestion and existing palate state (meaning that if the last thing in your mouth wasn?t compatible, the level of offensiveness will be exacerbated). Do not overlook this wine and push it aside as tart or sour after the first taste. Did you love the way beer or cognac tasted when you first tried them? Well okay maybe you’ve never had a cognac and let’s be honest, Natty Light has no flavor. But give Sauvignon Blanc a chance. Your tongue WILL be missing the boat to fantasyland otherwise.

My 11 favorite Sauvignon Blancs (in no particular order)

  1. Baron de LaDoucette Pouilly Fum? $60

  2. Rudd Napa Valley $35

  3. Lucien Crochet ?Le Ch?ne? Sancerre $25

  4. Merry Edwards Russian River $35

  5. Whitehaven Marlborough, NZ $15

  6. Le Bonheur South Africa $12

  7. Honig Reserve Napa Valley $20

  8. Groth Napa Valley $15

  9. Chateau La Louvi?re Bordeaux $25

  10. Chateau Haut Rian Bordeaux $10

  11. Ferrari Carano Sonoma County $15

I?ve never seen it anywhere, but if you can get your hands on the Araujo Eisele Vineyard from Napa Valley?.it?s supposedly the best domestic SB to date!

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