For me, there are few things more satisfying than sipping on a glass of crisp white wine on a warm summer evening. Paired with the right food, and good company; it doesn’t get much better than that!
Some people get intimidated by food and wine pairing. It may seem daunting, but I assure you that it’s quite simple and a lot of fun.
In general, you want to pair light wine with light food and heavy wine with heavy food. For example, a crisp white wine with salads and fish and robust red wine with rich meats and heartier dishes.
Have you ever noticed how a glass of zesty Sauvignon blanc or Pinot Grigio perfectly washes down a flaky white fish with lemon? Perhaps you haven’t noticed because they go together so well! Have you ever had lemon baked fish with a glass of big, tannic red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah? I dare you to try! You will no doubt notice that it tastes foul. Why? The tannins in the red wine do not pair well with the oils from the fish or the citrus from the lemon. It’s like drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth; It’s just not good! A heavy red like that compliments an equally heavy dish, such as roasted lamb or ribeye. Of course there are exceptions to this and even more tricks to tantalize the palate, which makes it all the more fun to experiment with!
The summer months are great for playing around with food and wine pairing because the crisp white wines that we crave go perfectly with the produce that is in season. It’s hard to find a red wine that tastes amazing with a light salad, but Sauvignon blanc is a salad’s best friend.
Last week I opened up a bottle of Sancerre, one of my favorite white wines on the planet! Sancerre is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, from the Loire Region of north-central France. How do I know it’s a Sauvignon Blanc? (It’s not written anywhere on the label!…Tricky!) Most European wines are named after the region, appellation, town, or even vineyard where the grapes are grown. (For example Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chianti, Barolo, etc..) Since these designated regions are required by law to grow certain varietals, wine labels are simply named by their geographic location rather than the grape variety. Some importers will list the grape varietals on the back label of the bottle to help alleviate this confusion. If the grape varieties aren’t printed on the label however, it is up to the consumer to know (or find out) what is inside the bottle. In the case of Sancerre, all of the wine produced with the name of this village is Sauvignon Blanc…unless of course it is red, in which case it is pinot noir with some gamay!
The village of Sancerre is storybook perfect with medieval architecture and views of the French countryside lined with rows of grape vines, trees and happy farm animals. Most importantly though, the chalky-clay and limestone soils in this region are great for growing grapes, especially the crisp Sauvignon blancs. The soil imparts gun-flint and mineral characteristics on the wine that make it unique to any other wine in the world. This is what is known as the wine’s terroir.
Sauvignon Blanc is also made in other parts of the world including Italy, Austria, California, Texas, Washington, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand, among others. The differences from one region to another can be significant, so a fun thing to do is get a line-up of Sauvignon Blancs from several regions and do a wine comparison! The best way to understand terroir is to compare the same grape variety grown in different regions!
My personal favorites come from France. Sancerre, in particular, produces outstanding crisp and citrusy Suavignon Blancs with herbal, gun flint and mineral aromas.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are zesty and racy with grassy and limey aromas and acidity that makes your mouth pucker.
California Sauvignon Blancs are often lightly oaked and tend to be more subdued. They have more tropical notes and sometimes even a smokiness due to oak.
As far as food pairing, the bold acidity of Sauvignon Blanc is very good with zesty appetizers, such as lemon and garlic shrimp (or that flaky white fish), tangy cheeses like goat, Camembert and feta; bold flavored veggies such as arugula, asparagus, and tomatillo; light and salty meats like prosciutto, salmon, and roasted turkey; herbs such as thyme, basil, parsley; and zesty flavors like lemon, lime and garlic. The ultimate pairing, however is Sancerre and Crottin de Chavignol, a goat cheese disk made in the nearby village of Chavignol. This is considered a French classic! The acidity of the wine matches the tangy notes in the goat cheese as they dance together in harmony!
The high acidity of the wine makes it very versatile as far as food pairing. Why? Because each sip of wine makes your mouth water, which makes you want to take a bite of food. Then you will want to wash it down with another sip of wine, which will start the beautiful cycle over again! Try it, and you’ll see what I mean!
If you want to try the classic Sancerre and Crottin pairing but can’t find that specific cheese, you can substitute any goat chèvre. You could also substitute the Sancerre for another Sauvignon Blanc and it will still be delicious! Better yet, gather some friends and have each of them bring a Sauvignon Blanc from a different region to taste the nuances in each wine with cheeses and other appetizers!
Do you have a favorite Sauvignon blanc and food pairing?