A safe wine pairing for (almost) all types of food
By John H. Isacs
WHAT wine matches with the widest range of dishes and is suitable for most occasions? There is of course no perfect answer but Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, Chile and the Loire Valley would get some votes as would unoaked Chardonnays and young Pinots. Italian Prosecco, Barbera and Chianti as well as Spanish CAVA and Grenacha wines should also be considered.
Unoxidized styles of Sherry, namely Manzanilla and Fino are certainly among the world’s most versatile wines for food pairing but they’re more of a specialist wine and not particularly suitable for occasions with less experienced wine drinkers. Likewise the young Pinots of Burgundy with their good acidity pair beautifully with everything from fish to meats and cheeses but the austerity of these wines limits their popularity with lovers of more fruit forward New World wines. In another age, the wonderful off-dry Rieslings of Germany would have to be considered as they’re food pairing delights but, unfortunately, these semi-sweet and sweet styles of wines are decidedly out of fashion.
Readers of this column know that I’m a fan of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume wines, but Chinese pickles and other challenging foods easily overwhelm these fragrant, sophisticated and subtle wines.
On the other hand, New World Sauvignon Blancs from Chile and New Zealand feature the aromatics, exuberant fruit and freshness that makes them exceedingly food friendly and popular with a wide range of wine drinkers. I’ve written extensively on Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs so this week I will cover the greatly improved Sauvignon Blanc wines of Chile.
Sauvignon Blanc originated in the Gironde area of southwest France in the 17th century. The grape is most likely a descendant of the more ancient Savagnin variety. Sauvignon Blanc is popular in Bordeaux where it is often blended with Semilion and in the Loire Valley where it’s used to make stylish single variety wines. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, European missionaries in Chile started planting Sauvignon Blanc vines. Despite this lengthy history, the variety wasn’t always a favorite of Chilean winemakers. But, over the past decade or so, the grape has gained popularity with some crediting the explosive success of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs as helping to pave the way. Today Sauvignon Blanc is the second-most planted variety in Chile, trailing only Cabernet Sauvignon. Production has more than doubled since 2000. More importantly, the quality of the wines has greatly improved.
The finest Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines come from cool climate regions like Casablanca, San Antonio Valley, Maipo Valley, Coastal Aconcagua, Colchagua Valley and Northern Limari, where a favorable combination of altitude and ample cool breezes help make wines of admirable intensity and freshness. While not as outwardly exuberant as their counterparts in New Zealand, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines often share some of the elegant characteristics of French Sauvignon Blanc wines while still retaining plenty of New World fruit and punch. Most of these wines have moderate or no oak aging and exhibit a range of zesty lime, grapefruit, passion fruit, pineapple and apple aromas and flavors, along with mineral and grassy notes and a dry finish. Whether on the vine or in the glass, Chilean Sauvignon Blanc wines thrive in cool environments. When enjoying these fresh and invigorating wines, remember to serve them well-chilled, at about 8 degrees Celsius.
Chilean Sauvignon Blancs match nicely with a wide array of foods, including light snacks and salads, seafood and white meats as well as pastas and pizzas. The ripe fruit and good acidity in these wines makes them a perfectly suitable wine for Chinese tables that feature a combination of seafood and meats as well as Chinese pickles. They are also one of my favorite aperitif wines to enjoy while cooking. In addition to gracing my glass, a splash of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc in the sauce or soup does wonders to waken up and accentuate flavors.
When choosing a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc it’s important to pick wines from producers that are known for their dedication to the variety. One of my favorites is Vina Chocalan, an award-wining winery that makes expressive wines with character that belies their eminent affordability. Their Reserva Sauvignon Blanc and Malvilla Sauvignon Blanc both offer appealing ripe citrus flavors and crisp acidity. Other Chilean Sauvignon Blanc producers of note include Montes, Errazuriz, Miguel Torres, Cono Sur, Mont Gras and Casa la Joya.
So if you’re visiting a friend’s home this evening and face the wine dilemma of having no idea who else will be there or what food will be served, I strongly suggest you bring a good bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.