One of the best parts of late summer for anyone who loves to cook or eat is the spectacular variety of produce available in our area. Heirloom tomatoes and every type of herb, pepper, squash, eggplant, potato, cucumber or green are all there for the tasting. Now is the time to be drinking a wine that was made to go with all of these summer flavors: sauvignon blanc.
Sauvignon (“wild”) blanc (“white”) is a crisp white wine with notable acidity, herbaceous and grassy flavors, and it is generally best drunk young—although there are examples that last a decade or more. From a chef’s perspective, it is the acidity, citrus and vegetal notes that make it a useful companion to vegetable and seafood dishes.
Indigenous to France, sauvignon blanc is planted around the globe and is typically defined as Old World (Europe and around the Mediterranean) or New (everywhere else).
Our first bottle, the Domaine Merlin-Cherrier Sancerre, is what many would consider a textbook example of Old-World sauvignon, and to my palate, the most elegant of the three featured here. Some of the best come from the Loire Valley, about 120 miles south of Paris, just outside the old walled town of Sancerre. They are crisp and tart and sometimes have a “flinty” quality (a technical term derived from the aroma of flint striking on steel). Another classic aroma reference for some of the Loire Valley wines is cat pee (not necessarily a bad thing), but it is very subtle in this example. The chalky soil of the region results in a very crisp wine. No single flavor or aroma characteristic dominates, creating a balance that makes this wine perfect for sipping by itself on a warm afternoon, or enjoying with any number of foods. The subtle acidity of this Sancerre also makes it appealing to those who typically turned off by sauvignon blancs.
New World sauvignon blancs have different expressions of the same flavors. New Zealand, a leading producer of sauvignon blanc, began producing wines in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that the varietal garnered a great following. Auntsfield Estate is a worthy representative of New Zealand Sauv B.
With its obvious acidity and distinct flavors of passionfruit, lime and a grapefruit finish, this wine’s assertiveness could be off-putting to some, but paired with the right foods—such as a salad of avocado, tomato, red onion, lobster and citrus—even naysayers would be won over. Furthermore, New Zealand’s advocacy for the use of screw-top bottles makes this wine even easier to drink.
For a wine that falls somewhere on the Goldilocks spectrum between France and New Zealand, look no further than the Italian region of Friuli, an important but often overlooked producer of delicious, modern and interesting versions of classic sauvignon blanc. Scarpetta, an organic vineyard in the Colli di Orientali zone of Friuli, produces a sauvignon that will fit most palates. It has the signature acidity and hints of green herbal notes, but also some of the qualities of a just-ripened apricot, fruit forward, not too sweet and not too tart. A risotto with bold summer greens, a hint of smoked prosciutto and Montasio cheese would be a superb complement.
Refreshing acidity, citrus and tropical fruit, or hints of oak balanced by crisp minerality—whatever your menu suggests or your palate craves, this grape has plenty to offer. Take the opportunity to explore sauvignon blanc, a varied and versatile wine, perfectly suited to toast the last days of summer.