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Today: Spring is here -- and there's a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with your name on it.
After a brutal winter, finally –- finally! –- the sure signs of spring are making their way to markets and into our kitchens. Now is the time to add wine as another layer of flavor to your meals, and there no is better way to transition than with Sauvignon Blanc.
The magic of Sauvignon Blanc is its surprising versatility. It can be simple and clean and easy-drinking, perfect for that first very warm spring day when you’re more caught up in enjoying the weather than in thinking too hard about what you’ll drink. Sauvignon Blanc can also be very pretty and aromatic in the glass; like a vase of spring flowers on your kitchen counter, it can add a splash of freshness or even an effective, nervy attention-grab. Sauvignon Blanc, in its lesser-known, more robust versions, can also more subtly ease the transition from a hearty winter braise to a quick spring grill.
The effect you get from Sauvignon Blanc depends on which bottle you choose from the shelf, of course, and even more on what part of the world the bottle is from. Here we’ll look at three classic iterations of Sauvignon Blanc: from New Zealand, from the Sancerre region of France, and from northern Italy.
More: Looking for another springtime wine? Try rosé.
Forty years ago, Sauvignon Blanc was first planted in New Zealand by the founders of Matua Valley winery. It was a prescient move. Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc (or “Savvi” as they call it there) has become the standard bearer for New World wines, partly for its immediately recognizable aroma and taste, partly for its fruit-forward approachability, and partly for its reasonable price.
In the kitchen, it’s just as easy to imagine pouring Matua Sauvignon Blanc into a glass as it is pouring it into a cooking pot. Try steaming mussels in Sauvignon Blanc; the “green on green” flavors accentuate and reinforce each other. Finish with mint or coriander and you’ve created a bowl of springtime. Or use the wine as your poaching liquid for fish, especially lighter white fish like sole or halibut.
Hats off to the French and their Sauvignon Blanc, not only for being the original source for so many of the clones planted around the world today, but also for its stylistic variations from place to place.
Take two examples from the region of Sancerre, in the eastern Loire Valley. Its 2012 Domaine de la Rossignole is vibrant and minerally, with “great nerve all piled together,” according to wine director and owner Nicolas Quinones of Atlanta’s Woodfire Grill. Compare it to the 2011 Les Bornés from Domaine Henry Pellé from just a short distance away: Its minerality has a “wider wavelength,” Quinones says, making it rounder and open to fuller pairings like gently roasted chicken with lemon and thyme.
More: Taking dinner outside? Here are Cathy's recommendations for what to drink with grilled meats.
Here in the U.S. we don’t normally think of Sauvignon Blanc as coming from Italy, but I vote for a change to that, and fast. “Sauvignon,” as it’s referred to in northern Italy, has been planted there for a hundred years longer than most people realize -- long enough for locals to think of it as one of their own traditional grapes. And if the Italians have embraced it, you can count on its readiness for seamless, integrated pairings with food.
The weather is cooler in northern Italy, which means that the grapes there haven’t been in a rush to ripen. It’s something you can taste in the glass -- think “mature” rather than “zippy” -- and it’s something you can use to your advantage in the kitchen. Look for the 2011 Livio Felluga Sauvignon from Friuli for its balance: the wine is substantial enough to hold up to a chill in the air yet refreshing enough for the first springtime dishes to hit your dinner table.
Thanks to Faye Willmann-Donlea, a Sauvignon Blanc winemaker and Food52 community member, for her insights into these food pairings. What wines do you drink in the spring? Tell us in the comments!
Photos by James Ransom