Sauvignon Blanc originated in the Loire Valley as early as the 1500s. The name “sauvignon” derives from the two French words: sauvage (wild) and vigne (vine). This name paints a perfect picture for the vigorous growing plant and shape of the grape vines that produce sauvignon blanc. Sauvignon blanc was quite the traveler. It spread to the Bordeaux region where it spontaneously crossed with cabernet franc creating the very well known cabernet sauvignon. This all happened before the mid 1750’s but wasn’t discovered until 1996 at the University of California, Davis. Who would have thought that a red grape would have a white grape as a parent?! Sauvignon blanc vines develop buds late and interestingly enough they also ripen early. They do best in temperate climates like California and South Africa. Sauvignon blanc continues to gain popularity around the globe. Starting in the Alsace region to the Paris nightlife scene and finally making its way to New Zealand, Sauvignon blanc was truly becoming the talk of the town. It wasn’t until New Zealand started debuting bright, crisp, and refreshingly simple Sauvignon Blanc wines that the wine was truly championed and recognized. Sauvignon blanc wines were easy to drink and the public fell in love.
how is it made?
The characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc wines can vary widely. The variation is entirely dependent on the choices of the winemaker. Skin contact choices along with temperature during fermentation play a large role in the wine’s character. With warmer temperatures, the wine develops more minerality. Cooler temperatures accentuate the tropical fruit and citrus sensations we all come to love in Sauvignon Blanc. Dry sauvignon blancs are usually fermented in stainless steel rather than oak which contributes to their crisp texture. If it was aged in oak barrels, it would have vanilla and custard notes as well as a riper tropical fruit profile. It’s not unheard of to age sauvignon blanc in oak barrels, but it’s rare. This wine does best in temperate climates in New Zealand, Loire Valley, Chile and South Africa. But you can happen to find it in Italy as well. It is vinified into many different styles and arguably the best Italian examples are found in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto regions of northern Italy.
what does it taste like?
When it comes to taste, Sauvignon blanc is one of the most identifiable in the world of white wines. It has a chemical compound pyrazine which gives it a grassy, herbal, or almost bell pepper flavor. When grown in cooler climates, this herbaceous green characteristic is more prominent. In warmer climates, the pyrazine character diminishes in favor of riper fruit flavors - grapefruit or guava. Sauvignon blanc is extremely expressive of it’s terroir. For example, wines of the Loire Valley take the characteristics of the soil giving a slight flinty, smoky, or mineral-like quality. Sauvignon blanc is known for its high acidity, full-flavored with mineral, grass and grapefruit notes. Compared to Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc leans to be more acidic and is not as delicately flavored.
cheese to pair with
You might be wondering, should I start with cheese or wine? It might be daunting to pick the perfect pair but let’s start with the basics. Pairing wines and cheeses with equal intensity is always key. You don’t want to overwhelm the delicate flavors of gruyere with a big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon but it would be excellent alongside a Pinot Noir.
A general rule is that wines over 14.5% ABV are more intense and taste best with intensely flavored cheese types.
Wines under 12% ABV are lighter and match nicely with more delicate flavored milk cheeses. If this makes sense, you’re on your way to creating the perfect pairings no matter what cheese or wine you may have on hand. Pairing regions together is also a good rule of thumb. It’s often nice to trust the local traditions and match wines and cheeses from similar regions. Italian cheese with Italian wine, French with French, etc. If your wine of choice is Sauvignon Blanc, look for a goat cheese. Goat cheese is the pride of the Loire Valley, France so it makes perfect sense to try wines from the same region. Chevre is a blank slate and Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect chisel. Acidic, mineral driven, and slight citrus impart all that goodness into the cream, bringing out the herbal flavors you didn’t know you needed. Some other favorite cheeses to pair with sauvignon blanc are buttery soft cheeses, cheddar, gouda, havarti, monterey jack, camembert, swiss, brie, and muenster.
Food pairings are also something to consider--creating a complementary meal with generous amounts to shaved parmesan, parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino, asiago, fresh mozzarella, or ricotta is always an excellent choice for sauvignon blanc pairing.
Sounds gouda to us!
cheeses to avoid
White wine is a foolproof plan for cheese pairings… for the most part! Although Sauvignon Blanc goes exceptionally well with many artisanal cheeses, it’s worth noting that it’s not the best when it comes to blue cheese like gorgonzola or feta. While other whites like a chardonnay or riesling will fair okay, in general, a fruity red wine without too much structure is better with blue cheese, even dessert wines and sweet wines can pair well with a salty blue (although sweet sparkling wines should be saved for baby Swiss). Ideally, a roquefort port is a blue cheese's best friend. Although most Sauvignon Blancs would be ok with blue, the overall flavor profiles could clash. The substantial acidity and notes of lime and herbs from Sauvignon Blanc doesn't always match the rich flavor of blue cheese.