I know that some people might think of Chardonnay, but not me. For me, Sauvignon Blanc is the ultimate warm weather wine. It’s extremely versatile with lunch, dinner, the grill or just sitting around on a hot summer afternoon. What’s more, you can find it in all styles, from rich with ripe tropical tones to mineral-laden with tart citrus that makes your cheeks pucker.
It’s also one of the most versatile food wines I know. How many wines do you know of that can pair with salad, asparagus or sushi? The right Sauvignon Blanc can. What can be confusing is knowing what you’re going to get from a bottle. You can generalize that California will produce a ripe Sauvignon, but it’s often the grower and winemaker that determine a wine's characteristics. Was the climate moderate or hot? Was the soil gravel or schist? Was the wine aged in barrel or stainless steel? The good news is that they are all wonderful expressions of Sauvignon Blanc and each pairs superbly with the right recipe.
It’s with this in mind that I set out to pair some of my favorite Sauvignons that I tasted this year with a bunch of great recipes perfect for spring and summer.
Photo courtesy of Rivard via Flickr/cc
Loire Valley, France
To me, Pouilly-Fumé are classic Sauvignon Blanc. They are fresh and mouthwatering with the perfect balance of acidity, fruit and spicy floral notes. Often, these wines might seem light-hearted for New World tastes, but I assure you that with the right pairing, they will please even the most hedonistic palates.
This is as simple as it gets and sometimes that’s all it needs to be. If there are two vegetables that come to mind when I think of Sauvignon Blanc, they are asparagus and artichokes. These are two very difficult items to pair. Sauvignon Blanc is up to the challenge. A recipe of Roasted Asparagus and Baby Artichokes with Lemon-Oregano Aioli is perfect for its intense natural flavors that pair perfectly with the wine. You can also try this on the grill. A small dip in the Lemon-Oregano Aioli and magnifique!
2010 Francis Blanchet Pouilly-Fumé Cuvée Silice - The nose showed sea air, lime zest, salty hard cheeses and herbs. On the palate, it was weightless yet full of flavor with salty minerals on the attack, followed by grapefruit and inner floral notes. The wine's crisp acidity washed down effortlessly and left the flavor of intense grapefruit on the palate.
In New Zealand, it’s that unmistakable whiff of grapefruit and sometimes pineapple that draws me in every time. In fact, I often find myself craving a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. I once read that you can pair Sauvignon Blanc with anything you could squeeze a lemon over. I have to say it’s completely true when the wine is from New Zealand.
One of my favorite pairings for Sauvignon is scallops. Their buttery mouth-feel is everything this wine needs to create a perfect push and pull of textures on the palate. Add the butter seared exterior and both aromatic and palate-tempting herbs, and you have Seared Scallops with Herb-Butter Pan Sauce. A perfect pairing.
2010 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc Brancott Estate - The nose showed chalky minerals, grapefruit, stone, cat pee (in a good way) and citrus. On the palate, I found sweet apple fruit with mineral, citrus and herbs. The acid balance of this wine was very stern at first, but it opened up nicely over the course of an hour. The finish was long and mouthwatering with grapefruit and lemon pith lingering for half a minute.
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Over time, I have become a big fan of the white wines of Trentino, and this Sauvignon Blanc was so good that it stopped me in my tracks. There was so much intensity, yet it remained so pure and focused with great balance. I realized that I had to pair this wine with food because it presented a great opportunity to take advantage of its varietal character mixed with its racy intensity.
No, the chef did not go mad! The right Sauvignon Blanc can pair beautifully against a salad. In this pairing, it’s the intensity of the wine that adds layers of flavor and aromas to an Avocado and Mango Salad with Passion Fruit Vinaigrette. Will the dressing give this wine a run for its money? Yes, but in a good way.
2011 Concilio Sauvignon Blanc Trentino Arjent - The nose was striking with aromas of fresh-squeezed lemon, floral perfume and stony minerals. On the palate, it started soft and enveloping yet quickly turned clean and focused as flavors of lemon zest and granny smith apple filled the senses. The finish was lingering yet mouthwatering with lemon and floral notes. This was a great example of Sauvignon Blanc from a northern climate.
California, United States
You'd think that most Sauvignon Blanc (sometimes labeled Fumé Blanc) would be an over the top, tropical fruit bomb in California, and you’d be wrong. Today, California turns out Sauvignon with intense fruit balanced by zesty acidity. Some styles aim more for the Bordeaux style of Sauvignon with aging in small barrels, but most of what you’ll find will be great food wine with all the citrus and mineral zing you crave.
The pairing that won my heart was this against Sole Fillets with Toasted Pine Nuts, Lemon, and Basil. Sauvignon Blanc and fish is a no-brainer, but this recipe takes it to the next level as the pine nuts add a smooth texture for the Sauvignon to contrast against and the basil gives minty, herbal notes to complement the wine’s fruity bouquet.
2009 Kendall-Jackson Sauvignon Blanc Vintner's Reserve California - The nose showed ripe peach up front with notes of kiwi and lime. With time in the glass, aromas of green grass and spicy minerals joined the ripe fruits to present a very balanced bouquet. On the palate, it was crisp yet medium-bodied with melon, rich white fruits and a hint of bitter citrus. The finish tapered off with lasting pear and mouthwatering citrus notes.
The Veneto may not be well known for Sauvignon Blanc, but that’s where I found this great example. With a rich and striking nose married to great balance and zesty acidity, Fattori Vecchie Sauvignon Blanc found itself as one of my favorites this year. When pairing with a recipe, I went right to my own book of tricks.
Calamari in Zimino is a traditional seafood stew that is simple to make and has a flavor that is unbeatable. In this pairing, the wine adds that needed zest of citrus to the dish and combines with the broth to create a kaleidoscope of flavors across the palate. The Swiss chard also plays a starring role here as a perfect complement to the wine. Give it a try and I’m sure you’ll be making this throughout the summer.
2010 Fattori Vecchie Scuole Veneto IGT - On the nose, this wine was rich at first but with a piercing citrus note in the background, showing butter cookie, lemon zest, minerals and white floral aromas. On the palate, it was smooth with zesty acidity making the mouth water and creating a push and pull of textures with each sip. Lemon and grapefruit with a mineral tinge painted the palate and lasted into the finish.
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Washington State, United States
Washington State continues to make leaps and bounds with wines that have a sense of place without feeling like they're trying to emulate what’s already been done. In this case it was a Sauvignon Blanc that turned my head for its almost whimsical aromas and pure yet striking performance on the palate: Cadaretta sbs.
A classic pairing with Sauvignon is raw oysters, so I tried Oysters on the Half Shell with Verjus Mignonette Sauce. It’s just something about the saline minerals mixed with the citrus profile of the wine and that mouthwatering finish that makes you swoon. Don’t be intimated here; the most important part is to have a good oyster shucker and to buy the freshest ingredients you can find. (Verjus can be found at most specialty grocers.)
2009 Cadaretta sbs Columbia Valley – The nose showed steely white pit fruits, pineapple, fresh cut grass, almond skins and a hint of citrus. On the palate, it was medium in body with brisk acidity, showing young pineapple, green melon and a twist of lime. The finish was fresh yet lingered on the palate with citrus concentration.