It’s Summer! Drink Sauvignon Blanc.

 

Happy Summer, Winos! Those of us who live in the Phoenix, Arizona area have been experiencing summer for a solid 3 months. From now until September, we accept “Excessive Heat Warnings” of over 110 degrees as just another summer day.

Whether you are experiencing excessive heat or just regular ol’ “hot and humid”, nothing goes better with heat than refreshing alcoholic beverages. And I presume that wine is your alcoholic beverage of choice. One of the most refreshing wines to sip on by the pool or beach is Sauvignon Blanc.

Q: Is “Sauvignon Blanc” a grape varietal or a region?

 

A: Grape varietal.

Wines made from primarily one grape varietal are often referred to by their varietal. E.g. [the bracketed words are not usually stated.] “That bottle of [wine made from] Sauvignon Blanc [grapes] has a lovely balance of fruit flavors and minerality.”

Like many grapes, Sauvignon Blanc can result in a large range of flavor and style in the bottle depending on where it is grown and how it is made. A Sauvignon Blanc from France, for example, has a different flavor profile than that of California. Sure, there are common characteristics across the board, but understanding the differences helps us refine our palates. Here’s a quick look at the different flavor profiles between each of the key regions that produce Sauvignon Blanc.

Note: There are, of course, more regions that make Sauvignon Blanc. For the sake of blog posting length, I’m just covering these primary SB growing areas!

General Characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc:

Dry, white wine that is typically light to medium bodied and has an herbal undertone. From there, the wine can have fruity, floral, and/or smoky characteristics.

France

  • Region: Loire Valley
  • On the Label: “Sancerre” or “Pouilly-Fumé”
  • Typical Flavors: Herbal, Smokey (gunflint)
  • Typical Characteristics: Crisp, Focused, Elegant

WINE-KNOW PAUSE: Ok – are you thinking… “Gunflint’?! What the heck kind of flavor is that?!” Well, think smoky, but that sort of metallic smokiness that you can smell after shooting a cap. This is caused by the kind of soil/gravel that the vines grow in!

  • Region: Bordeux
  • On the Label: Graves
  • Note: White wines from Graves are a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and another grape called Semillon. This changes the flavor profile quite a bit.
  • Typical Flavors: Honey, Minerals
  • Typical Characteristics: Rich, Round, Bright

Note about “On the Label”: European/French wines don’t always include the grape varietal (“Sauvignon Blanc”) on the label, so look for a white wine with these words on the label. They are regions that make white wine with Sauvignon Blanc.

New Zealand

  • Region: Hawkes Bay, Marlborough
  • On the Label: Sauvignon Blanc
  • Typical Flavors: Grapefruit, Limes, Herbs, Melons
  • Typical Characteristics: Crisp, Focused, Sharp

(I know – this is quite a range! But think green fruit and herbs)

California

  • Region: Napa Valley, Sonoma
  • What to look for on the label: “Sauvignon Blanc” or “Fumé Blanc” (<<it’s the same)
  • Typical Flavors: Citrus/Grapefruit, Melon, Herbal
  • Typical Characteristics: Refreshing, Vibrant, Clean

Chile

  • Region: Casablanca Valley, Maipo Valley
  • Typical Flavors: Melon, Floral
  • Typical Characteristics: Light, Fresh, Some Minerality
  • Note: Can be made from a different and similar grape called “Sauvignon Vert” or “Sauvignonasse”, but labeled Sauvignon Blanc.

South Africa, Italy, and Austria are also known for producing lovely Sauvignon Blanc.

Go get out there in the hot summer sun and taste the differences between regional Sauvignon Blancs! I think you’ll be quite surprised at how easily you’ll be able to pick up both the commonalities AND the differences. (Of course, Wine Star Services is always happy to help with such comparative wine tastings!)

 

Sauvignon Blanc At A Glance

Sauvignon Blanc At A Glance

 

DYWK Country Series: France, Part III – French Wines With Food

Welcome to the final post in this three-part “Did You Wine Know” Country Series.  The previous posts were background info leading to this post.  In Part I, we talked about the overall wine quality/classification system in France.  Part II covered four of 14 wine regions of France.  And at long last, in Part III, we’ll jabber a bit about food pairings with wines from the four regions.

General Concepts On Food & Wine Pairings

In general, when pairing food and wine, a wino wants to pair in one of the following 3 ways:

  • Use the wine IN the food to make a sauce or marinade, etc.  Assuming you make a mean sauce, drinking the same wine used in the sauce will be an instant pairing success.
  • Complement the flavors of the wine with the flavors of the food.  This is basically matching similar flavors – sweet food with sweet wine, fruity with fruity, etc.
  • Contrast the flavors of the wine with the flavors of the food.  So having a salty dish with a sweet wine, or a highly tannic wine with a fatty/buttery dish.

I know for me, picking out the right food to go with your wine (because, let’s face it – that’s what anyone reading this post is actually doing) comes easily.  But more often than not, it’s a bit of a guess. We often aren’t very well-versed in articulating the flavors of wine, or anything really.  (For reasons discussed in this post…).  So while we know we really like a particular bottle, it’s hard to say, “This wine has these flavor characteristics, and my food has those flavor characteristics, and therefore they will pair well together.” (Note: I wrote that using my “know-it-all” voice – like a local newscaster.)  Anyway, part of my continuing journey to better understand wine is to better understand pairings. And in order to do so, I’ve got to improve my ability to articulate the flavors I taste in my glass.

Instead of worrying about if the food and wine are complementary or contrasting in flavors, winos can think about regional pairings. Typically, the wine from a particular region goes with the food of a particular region.  “What grows together goes together.”  (Note: I wrote that one using my “cheesy guy” voice.)  This is easier to do with a place like France than the U.S. There are traditional dishes and foods that are common to certain regions of France that relate closely to the traditional wines of that region.  In the U.S., we have traditional regional cuisines that are more like “Chicago Pizza” and “California Cuisine” – not exactly food that is organic to the region.  Since we are focused on France, we’ll look at regional pairing for the wines from the four regions of France discussed in Part II.  Here goes…

Bordeaux

Recap for Part II: Bordeauxs are mostly red blends (usually including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc), gentle complexity, elegant, not big in flavor.

Remember that Bordeaux is on the west coast of France and became the wine that was shipped off to England back in the day. This and back in the 1100s, the mighty Eleanor of Acquitaine (from Southwestern France) married King Henry I of England. And a strong relationship between England and Bordeaux was born. England got Bordeaux’s wine and Bordeaux got England’s food.  You lucky Bordelais!!!” (Note: That was my sarcastic voice… no offense, British friends.) The people of Bordeaux may or may not agree with the fact that their dishes were influenced by the English. But a standard meal in this region includes roasted chicken, roasted lamb, potatoes, green beans.  And guess what – it pairs very well with a bottle of red Bordeaux wine.

Wino Aside: I find this historical influence on wine rather interesting… and it also helps me remember that Bordeaux food is tasty, but not complicated. And therefore I should drink Bordeaux wine with tasty uncomplicated food.

For some of my readers, you’ll also be interested to know that one of Eleanor and Henry’s sons was King Richard I – also referred to as “Richard the Lionhearted” – and in the bad classic movie, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, is couuuusin to Maid Marion who becomes the lover of none other than Robin of the Hood!! (Thank you for the correcting my original family tree description, EKF.)

As noted above, lamb is also a classic red Bordeaux pairing.  Sheep graze the overall region and feed on the grass between the grapevines. It is said that this gives the sheep an especially tasty flavor.

Other common foods of Bordeaux that pair well with the white wines include Roquefort cheese (which is a sheep’s milk blue cheese) and foie gras.   The sweet white wine from Sauternes (a sub-region of Bordeaux) is a great contrast to the Roquefort cheese. The dry whites of Bordeaux’s Graves sub-region pair well with salty seafood like oysters.

Bordeaux Pairings Summary: 

  • Reds – Simple dishes like roasted chicken, roasted lamb, potatoes, green beans
  • Sweet Whites (look for Sauternes on the label) – Rich food like blue cheeses, foie gras
  • Dry Whites (look for Graves on the label) – Oysters and other seafood

The Loire Valley

Recap from Part II: This region is spread out and therefore has great variety in its wines, but the general characteristic across the board is that they are zesty and brisk wines. The western coast produces dry whites, the central area produces pretty much all kinds of wines from sweet to dry reds and whites, and easter Loire produces primarily dry white wines and some dry reds.

The western coast of the Loire Valley, being on the water, has a strong culinary culture and tradition with seafood.  So it only makes sense that the wines from the western Loire Valley were developed to go with seafood. They are minerally and dry whites that, when paired with a salty seafood dish, bring out the flavors of both the wine and food.

As we look more towards the central and eastern Loire Valley, we find more variety in the white wines where they are made with Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are high in acid – they are dry, crisp, and refreshing in flavor, which makes them very flexible with food pairings. This region is along the river and therefore accompanies a freshwater fish dish very nicely.  The high acidity complements salads nicely and contrasts with creamy cheeses. They will also pair well with roast duck or grilled salmon.  So – basically, try these wines with whatever you want! It’ll probably go!

Loire Vally Pairing Summary:

  • Western Loire (look for Muscadet on the label): Seafood, particularly oysters and mussels
  • Central and Eastern Loire (look for Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume on the label): freshwater fish, salads, creamy cheeses, roast duck, roast chicken, grilled salmon

Burgundy

Recap from Part II: Burgundy is the easy one to remember – the two primary grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

This region is more inland and less influenced by waterways than Bordeaux or The Loire Valley. Traditional cuisine includes cooking hens/roosters, rabbits, snails – the food that we often think of when we think of French dishes. Slow cooked braised beef stew is also a traditional Burgundian dish (boeuf bourguignon).  Any of these dishes will go beautifully with a Burgundian red.  The whites of Burgundy will also pair well with many of these dishes, but try it with lobster drizzled with butter (wait – does anyone not drizzle butter on their lobster??)

Burgundy Pairing Summary:

  • Reds: hens, roosters, rabbits, snalis, slow cooked beef stew
  • Whites: snails, lobster, hens, roosters

The Rhone Valley

Recap from Part II: Red Rhone Valley wines are big and spicy!

The Rhone Valley is in southeastern France.  Since these wines are big and spicy, they will pair well with the earthy, gamy flavors. Try Rhone reds with roasted lamb – it will accompany the intensity of that gamy/earthy flavor.  Rhone reds will also pair beautifully with strong cheeses (blue cheese, goat cheese, etc) and charcuterie plates.

—-

Winos… All of this barely touches the surface of the wines of France (remember, this covers only a little about only 4 of the 14 regions).  And even less of the surface for wine and food pairing. But I hope you feel like you have a slightly better sense of French wines… I know that I have plans to hit up the wine shop and try some of these combinations. But the bottom line with any wine is – if you like it, drink it! And then experiment with it – try that wine with different dishes and see how it brings out different flavors of wine. Try a wine with a seafood dish and a roasted chicken dish and see what happens.  There are no rules with any of this – just a whole lot of experimenting to figure out what makes your palette pop with delight!

Au revoir, Winos!

DYWK Country Series: France, Part II – Key Wine Regions of France

Bonjour à mes collègues amateurs de vin!  (And thank you, Google Translate.) It is time for Did You Wine Know France Country Series Part Deux!  As a reminder, this is part of a 3-part series covering some basic Wine Know of France.

DYWK Country Series: France, Part II – Key Wine Regions of France

As you may have noticed, while strolling around your local wine shop, French wines do not have labels splattered with the name of the grape used to make the wine.  They are known by the region from which they come. It comes down to “terroir”.

Terroir: Terroir is a French term and we don’t really have an English word for direct translation.  It is is the grape growing environment that is influenced by climate, sunlight (and orientation to the sun), soil, slope of the earth, elevation, rainfall, wind, fog, temperature, etc.  It is the sum of everything that influences the growing of grapes.  Wines from a particular terroir have flavors in the wine that are associated with that particular location (as in plot of land).  Every vineyard in France is said to have its own terroir. Technically, one (with a very well trained palate) should be able to taste a wine and recognize where it is from because it should taste like it came from that region.

Terroir is embedded in the culture of French wine.  We might say it defines the French wine culture.  The classification system is based on this concept – a vineyard must show that there are flavors that are typical of the land on which the grapes grow (from that terroir) in order to be classified in the wine system.

Wino Take-Away: Terroir is très important to building your French Wine Know. Wines from a particular region have characteristics that are typical of that region.

Regions:  There are 14 official wine regions of France (a designated wine region must be part of the AoC/AOP classification system, as discussed in Part I.) There is SO MUCH to know about French wines – I mean, they have books that cover just one region or even one vineyard with lots and lots of history and meaning.  My trusty source for much of my Wine Know (The Wine Bible) dedicates 200 of its 900 pages to France and its regions.  But here on W2WK, I intend only to whet your appetite on the topic and will spend about 800 more words on the topic.

The below image shows where France’s 14 wine regions are located. In today’s post, I’m going to highlight the types of grapes grown in just four of these regions. Because of the strict regulations in the French wine classification system, only certain grapes are allowed to be grown in certain regions.  For example, winemakers in Bordeaux aren’t allowed to plant just any old grape, make wine, and call it a Bordeaux.  They must use the grapes permitted by the system.  Since we American Winos primarily choose our wines based on the grape varietal (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, etc), we get a little squeamish around wines without this info on the label. I tend to wander into the French wine section at the store and look around wondering if “Chateaux blah blah blah” is going to be light or heavy or bold or fruity…. I never know! But hopefully this breakdown of some of the French wine regions will give us a start and knowing what to go for in the wine shop. 

French Wine Regions

French Wine Regions

Bordeaux: This region produces more wine than nearly any other region in the world.  Over 700 million bottles of wine are produced in Bordeaux every year.  And 80% of that is red wine. Five grapes are primarily used to make Bordeaux wines – and they are almost always blended together.  “Bordeaux wines are about elegance and intensity of flavor; they are rarely massive or powerful.” (The Wine Bible)

  • Reds
    • Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Merlot
    • Cabernet Franc
  • Whites
    • Sauvignon Blanc
    • Sémillon
  • Other “supporting” grapes used minimally to blend wines include Malbec, Petit Verdot, Muscadelle, and Ugni Blanc.

Historical Fun Fact about Bordeaux: Because this region is on the waterways of France, in the 13th/14th centuries, Bordeaux wines were being shipped off to places like England. And as the English (among other countries) became accustomed to the joys of Bordeaux, its success and familiarity grew faster than most other French wines.

Wino Take-Away: Bordeauxs are primarily a blend of the major and minor grapes grown in the region, which brings about a gentle complexity.

The Loire Valley: The Loire is the most diverse wine region in France as it grows many different grapes. As you can see in the map, it is a long strip of land from west to east. The region has a cool climate and experiences temperatures at some of the lowest points at which grapes can ripen. “The signature characteristic of all Loire wines is their zesty acidity.” (The Wine Bible)  For The Loire Valley, different types of grapes are primarily used in different parts – so I’ll highlight the grapes not by red vs white, but by the regions within the region.

  • Western Loire – primarily produces dry white wine
    • Muscadet (white)
  • Central Loire – produces sweet-medium sweet wines, sparkling wines, dry red and white, and rosés
    • Chenin Blanc (white)
    • Sauvignon Blanc (white)
    • Cabernet France (red)
  • Eastern Loire – primarily produces dry white wines, some red
    • Sauvignon Blanc (white)
    • Pinot Noir (red)
    • Gamay (red)

The interesting historical influence of The Loire Valley is that it used to be the vacay spot of Kings and their courts in the mid-20 century. They’d ride on down from Paris when it got too hot and went to hang out in The Loire.  And what does one do on vacation?? Eat and drink too much, of course. So Loire Valley wines were developed to accompany food from that region. For example, the Western Loire Valley – which is on the ocean – produces wines that you will likely enjoy most when consumed with a seafood dish.

Wino Take-Away: Loire Valley wines are widely varied with many grape varietals, and may be most enjoyed when paired with food.

Burgundy: Karen McNeil – author of The Wine Bible- describes wine in such an eloquent way that I’m going to have to just quote her on her Burgundy description.  “The great red Burgundies are indisputably sensual. For centuries they have been described in the most erotic of ways, and sipping them has been compared, among other things, to falling in love.” Does that not make you want to go out to the wine shop and grab a bottle RIGHT NOW or what?! (In fact, I think I might…)

Drinking a good Burgundy may conjure ethereal feelings, so one might think there is a complex blending methodology used to bring about great balance. (No wait – we already learned that happens in Bordeaux.)  Burgundy has only TWO major grapes.

  • Red: Pinot Noir
  • White: Chardonnay
  • Note: Gamay is also used for wines from Beaujolais, which is technically part of Burgundy

Drinking a red Burgundy is not quite like opening a bottle of Pinot Noir, however. The flavors of red Burgundies are greatly influenced by their terroir and each vineyard is unique in its terroir.  Another interesting historical piece to this is that the average grower has only 3.2 acres. This primarily ties back to the days of Napolean who set in place land fracturation laws requiring that all children in one family receive an equally divided piece of their father’s land. So the land broke up into smaller and smaller chunks.  (Luckily, this did not stop anyone from continuing to grow grapes.)

Wino Take-Away: While Burgundian reds are all primarily made from Pinot Noir grapes, they vary greatly in flavor and complexity from vineyard to vineyard. But a good red Burgundy may have you floating on cloud nine upon tasting.

The Rhone: The Rhone region is divided between Northern and Southern Rhone, and these areas are very different. Most of Rhone produces red wines, but whites and roses are also made there. Northern Rhone primarily uses Syrah as its major grape and Southern Rhone reds are usually blends of a number of grapes. “The wines’ howling spiciness has no parallel. Rhones are the wine equivalent of a primal scream.” (The Wine Bible)

Northern Rhone:

  • Red: Sarah
  • White: Viognier, Marsanne, Rousanne

Southern Rhone:

  • Red: Grenache Noir (is the major grape)
  • Whites: Granache Blanc, Marsanne, Rousanne

Because these wines are so big and bold, a good red Northern Rhone wine will age very well – upwards of 50 years!  (Who on earth can save a bottle for that long!?)  Something to keep in mind when you have things to celebrate 50 years down the road… I guess my 85th birthday is probably worth celebrating… hmmm. Something to think about.

Wino Take-Away: Red Rhone wines are big and spicy.  

There are TEN MORE wine regions of France.  As you can see, it takes a lot of Wine Know to get a feel for each region’s characteristics (or terroir) as represented in wine. For me, I feel like I have a slightly stronger understanding of at least these four regions now, and won’t have to pretend (as much) that I know what I’m doing in the French wine aisle.  Next up in the Country Series is going to be more about pairing food to these wines.