I’ve said it before: Taste enough sauvignon blancs, and you will find flavors of pineapple, apricot, peach, melon, fig, kiwi, fresh-cut lawn, lemon grass, grapefruit, lime, gooseberry, celery, oregano, pencil lead, gunflint and, finally, cat pee.
I’m not making this up. The tartest sauvignon blancs, often from the Sancerre region of France’s famous Loire Valley, can smell like your living room after Tabby has marked it (in the good sense, I always hasten to say). The sweetest, often from the warmer parts of California, can be chardonnay wannabes — tasting like tropical fruit salads.
Grape growers have some control over it, deciding where to plant and how soon to harvest. Winemakers have a say as well, deciding whether to apply fermenting techniques that sweeten the grapes.
Wine fans, of course, can have our say by tasting the varying styles and voting with our wine purchases — or lack thereof.
There are passionate advocates on both sides. The tart-style bunch says a hint of cat pee or gunflint is the truer nature of the grape. Those who favor sweetness say they simply taste better that way.
Winemakers are no dummies. Most sauvignon blancs in the market fall between the extremes — crisp and tart, refreshing and compatible with a wide range of foods.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to pin down the style by reading tasting notes on back labels of bottles, because they tend to say the wines inside go wonderfully with everything.
So we have to taste and remember. It’s not as if the homework is so unpleasant. And it’s very much worth doing.
Sauvignon blancs tend to grow best in cool areas — France’s Loire Valley, New Zealand’s Marlborough region, Chile’s coast cooled by the Pacific Ocean’s chilly Humboldt Current.
Sauvignon blancs are best drunk young — within a year of purchase. They tend to go better with food than chardonnay, which can overwhelm delicate dishes with heft and alcohol.
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Sauvignon blancs go nicely with simple fish dishes, salads, chicken or shrimp with pasta and most vegetarian dishes.
The best application of sauvignon blanc I’ve come across was at a cookout in California, where they dropped raw oysters in glasses of the wine and made shooters.
Last, and maybe best: Sauvignon blancs are less popular than chardonnays, so they tend to be a few dollars cheaper.