3 Sauvignon Blancs to Stock Up On for Spring

May  1, 2014

We may have food down cold, but wine? This is where we'll conquer it. Join us; we don't want to drink alone. 

Today: Spring is here -- and there's a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with your name on it.

Guide to Sauvignon Blanc from Food52

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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.

New Zealand
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 

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Cathy Huyghe
    Cathy Huyghe
  • ChefJune
  • AntoniaJames
  • gmg2011
Cathy Huyghe

Written by: Cathy Huyghe

Best advice I've ever heard regarding wine? "Just drink the stuff."


Cathy H. May 3, 2014
Thanks so much for your comments, Everyone! I'm really interested in this question, and in this conversation. I reached out to several friends and contacts for their opinions, and here's how it shook out: home cooks I asked, who aren't involved in the commercial production of food or wine, seemed to favor a more relaxed approach: wine and salad for them is a perfectly fine pairing. On the other hand, people who are involved in the food and wine production business were more cautious -- wine and salad could be fine, but they're more careful about the sort of vegetables in the salad. Leafy, sweet greens, for example, rather than bitter or astringent greens like arugula. A winemaker I talked to said he avoids salad whenever he's sampling wines, while home cooks I know said that wine and salad are, basically, their daily summer diet. That range of answers underscores, for me, the most basic rule of thumb when it comes to wine: that is, to drink what you like! If a wine or pairing tastes "off" to you, don't do it. If it tastes good, then go with it. It's your palate, and your choice! As interesting as the debate is, the decision in the end is yours.
ChefJune May 2, 2014
I typically make my salad dressings with citrus juice rather than vinegar. The citrus doesn't clash with wine. Sauvignon blanc with salad is a delicious combination. One of my favorite springtime wines can only be had directly from the winemaker in Forestville, CA [www.visioncellars.com] It's a unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris that is lively and refreshing!
Cathy H. May 3, 2014
Thank you, June! I haven't had that wine, but Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris blends could be amazing... I'd be interested in your response to the salad pairing comment I just posted, above :-)
Cathy H. May 1, 2014
I agree it isn't as typical as wine with a main course, but why not have wine with salad? Especially something crisp and refreshing like Sauvignon Blanc! What are your favorite pairings, Antonia?
AntoniaJames May 1, 2014
Do people actually drink wine with salad? The acidity of a sharp dressing utterly destroys any enjoyment of the wine. One always serves water with salad, for that reason. I suppose that with a very low acid dressing, one might drink certain wines, but that lemon next to the wine glass in the photo made me cringe! ;o)
gmg2011 May 1, 2014
Many moons ago (read: prior to the birth of our 3 young children), my husband and I hosted wine tastings in our home for friends with a serious interest in wine (mostly serious collectors). 12 wines organized around a theme with a 4 course meal, which my husband and I prepared. We typically went for soups, pastas, etc for the first two courses, but occasionally, in a pinch a salad would appear though typically dressed a creamy, not very acidic dressing. It was never as nice a pairing as something more substantial and less acidic, but carefully matched, certainly not the end of the world. At home alone if we are having a salad as a first course we may wait on the wine…or we may not--depends on the type of day we have had ;)
Cathy H. May 3, 2014
Thank you for this response, and what a fun theme for meals at home! Would your guests each bring a bottle or two? I wonder if we can "adopt" this idea for Food52-inspired dinners :-)
gmg2011 May 3, 2014
We typically would have 12-14 people some of whom would contribute a bottle or two depending on the theme and what they had. We would think about themes well in advance and make some strategic purchases accordingly. Some themes included vertical tastings from a single maker over many years, one type of grape form all over the world, i.e. burgundy and pinot from the Oregon, Califormia and New Zealand, all Italian or all Spanish tastings and once an all whites tasting. We would plan the menu to fit the wine menu for these dinners, not vice versa.
AntoniaJames May 1, 2014
Wine, with salad (looking at the second photo, above)? Really? Not what I'd expect to see . . . . ;o)