Crisp, cool, light, lively, tart. Sounds like a pretty good wine for the sultry days of summer.
That would be sauvignon blanc.
Fans of this grape say that while it doesn’t always have the opulence of chardonnay, it goes better with food for that very reason.
Chardonnay can overpower lighter foods. Sauvignon blanc is a more pleasing match for shellfish, mild finfish, shrimp, light chicken dishes, tuna salad, even potato salad and such. With its grassy, herbal qualities, it goes nicely with veggies charred on the grill.
Knowing this, many winemakers encourage that lean lightness by fermenting the sauvignon blanc grape long and cool in stainless steel tanks to retain its crisp acids and aging it in oak barrels too old to impart much richness to the wine.
Also, sauvignon blancs from New Zealand often have an additional refreshing flavor. Oddly, it’s known as “gooseberry” even by fans that have never been in the same room as a gooseberry. Still, they recognize and appreciate the flavor — tart, tangy green apples and white grapefruit.
But not every sauvignon blanc follows this pattern. Some winemakers go for richer, more complex flavors, using several techniques.
Some add the musqué clone of sauvignon blanc, known for its powerful floral aromas, rich body and flavors of honey and tropical fruit.
Others blend in a small proportion of the sémillon grape, for its fuller body and richer flavors of ripe pears and papayas.
Still others seek greater richness by putting a budding sauvignon blanc wine through a secondary “malolactic” fermentation that changes the wine’s tart malic acid into softer lactic acid similar to that found in milk.
Finally, some age sauvignon blanc in powerful new oak barrels, imparting flavors of vanilla, toast and butter.
The richer sauvignon blancs can be delicious — great matches for such opulent dishes as pasta with alfredo sauce, stone crabs with melted butter and such.
▪ 2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley (53 percent sauvignon musqué, 47 percent sauvignon blanc): aromas of tangerines, flavors of mangoes, pink grapefruit and other tropical fruits, full-bodied and rich; $32.
▪ 2013 Galerie Wines “Equitem” Sauvignon Blanc, Knights Valley, Sonoma County (100 percent sauvignon blanc): cut grass aromas, crisp and lively, with flavors of lemons, grapefruit and minerals; $30.
▪ 2014 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (100 percent sauvignon blanc): aromas and flavors of ripe apricots, gooseberries and tropical fruits, medium body; $20.
▪ 2013 Atalon Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley (91 percent sauvignon blanc, 9 percent sémillon): light, bright and fruity, with aromas and flavors of white grapefruit, apricots and minerals; $21.
▪ 2013 Amici Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley (50 percent sauvignon blanc, 50 percent sauvignon musqué): powerful and rich, with floral aromas and flavors of citrus, pineapple and minerals; $25.
▪ 2013 Matanzas Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc, “Helena Bench Vineyard,” Sonoma County (90 percent sauvignon blanc, 10 percent sauvignon musqué): aromas of flowers and peaches, flavors of minerals, anise and tropical fruit; $40.
▪ 2014 Niner Wine Estates Sauvignon Blanc, Paso Robles (62 percent sauvignon blanc, 28 percent sauvignon musqué, 10 percent sémillon): aromas and flavors of ripe tropical fruit, smooth body, rich finish; $20.
▪ 2014 Makara Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand (100 percent sauvignon blanc): flinty aroma, flavors of ripe tropical fruit, crisp and lively; $14.
▪ 2014 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena/Napa Valley (100 percent sauvignon blanc): aromas and flavors of white grapefruit and ripe apricots, lively and crisp; $18.
▪ 2013 Steelhead Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast (100 percent sauvignon blanc): cut-grass aroma, flavors of lemons, limes and green apples, crisp, light and lively; $13.