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Wine School! (Class #4 – Sauvignon Blanc)

Feb. 15, 2010
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Sauvignon blanc, the light white... Of the six major varietals, sauvignon blanc is the most delicate. Sauvignon Blanc follows only Chardonnay in domestic U.S. production—although the difference between first and second place is a factor of six or seven. As people became somewhat "chardonnayed out" in the last decade, Sauvignon Blanc stepped up.

Sauvignon Blanc's origins are traced to Bordeaux in France. The grape is the parent varietal of Cabernet Sauvignon. Wine made from Sauvignon Blanc tend to be light in body with a fragrant, fruity nose—as well as a scent called "herbaceous." The taste is fruity and tart, and the finish is normally crisp. "Old World" Sauvignon Blancs sometimes have a "mineral" character.

Sauvignon Blanc is an extremely food friendly wine, largely because of its acidity. Some see "acidity" and think "sour." "Tartness" is a better synonym. Imagine lemon juice or lime juice—acidic and sour on its own. But a splash of either in some club soda or tonic water makes the tartness pleasant. The acidity of the wine cuts through flavors that can be real wine killers.

I'll discuss food pairings below, but hot peppery foods go exceptionally well with Sauvignon Blanc. Why? The chemical compound that creates heat is called Capsaicin. If you sift through some memories to high school chemistry, Capsaicin is a strong base. Sauvignon Blanc is acidic, and acids neutralize bases. Sauvignon Blanc and spicy food tames the tartness and heat, allowing the food's flavor and the wine's fruit to shine through.

As I discussed with Pinot Noir, the terroir has a major effect on the flavor. For comparison's sake, I chose three very different versions:

Veramonte 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (Chile) – $10-12
Yvecourt 2007 Bordeaux (France) – $9-11
Villa Maria 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) – $13-15

The Veramonte has the fruitiest nose with a distinct scent of grapefruit and mangoes. The Yvecourt's was somewhat fruity, but much more floral and had a bit of a scent of herbs, as many Sauvignons do. The Villa Maria was the most complex . The herbaceous scent mellowed after a good swirl into pineapples and vanilla.

The tastes were very different. The Veramonte was tart and very crisp. The finish was tropical and a little peppery. The Yvecourt was light tasting with a little gentle citrus flavor. The finish was extremely dry with that mineral flavor. The Villa Maria was the most complex and full-bodied. The fruit was coupled with vanilla. The finish was the least dry and was the longest, gradually getting tarter.

The Veramonte was the most drinkable and refreshing on its own or paired with anything spicy, especially Thai food. The Yvecourt goes with any kind of shellfish. Crab, shrimp, calamari—anything along those lines is a winner. The Villa Maria is full enough to pair with chicken, pork, and some cream sauces.

Class dismissed…


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