Saturday, July 07, 2012
Sauvignon Blanc like an expert
I am picking up the pen again after a lengthy absence.  The Best Cellar is now blogging for Birchbox Man (more on that later).  Here is the first in a series:

Eskimos have 100 words for snow, and for good reason: they’ve got a lot of snow in Alaska, and it’s not all the same.  The closer you look at anything, the more you start to draw small distinctions.  All rap music does not sound the same if you’re paying attention.  

Wine geeks have about a million descriptors to identify the aromas and flavors in different wines.  Wine Spectator magazine proudly announces that they reviewed over 700 wines in the latest issue, including a number of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.  That’s a lot of wine to describe in neat little paragraphs, and they’ve got a responsibility to their readership to make it sound like all Sauvignon Blancs are not the same.   To be sure, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are more aromatic and over-the-top in style than those from the US, or the classic style of the Loire Valley in France, so it pays to sniff, swirl and slurp the wine.  

The Spectator used all of the following to describe the various Sauvignon Blancs: petrol, lanolin, spice notes (“notes” is good word to drop), honeysuckle, fresh grass, fresh chive, peach and tangerine finish (“finish” is the sensation that lingers in your mouth after the wine is on its way down your throat), passion fruit, guava, pickled ginger, spiced pear, kiwifruit, talc, lemongrass, fresh thyme.  Nothing is out of bounds. 

It may seem like a silly parlor game, but it’s pretty useful to be able to describe what you’re smelling and tasting.  And if you taste several bottles of the same kind of wine side-by-side, you get a better sense of how these descriptors really do help define what it is that you like (or don’t) about a wine. 

Try to be specific—the more specific the better.  “Citrus” isn’t bad, but “lemony” is better, and “Meyer lemon” or “lemon zest” is better still.  Crunchy green apple, succulent nectarine, oolong tea.  These all get bonus points for creativity. 

Tie it all together with adjectives like elegant, balanced, bright, refreshing, smooth, vivid, tangy, zesty, round, juicy and, my favorite: bracing acidity.  

Mix and match like “Madlibs” and you get something like: A juicy and vibrant white that features notes of key lime pie, white grapefruit, and green tea, giving way to flavors of coconut water, ripe pineapple and dried mango.  Bracing acidity adds plenty of punch to its elegant finish.  

These are perfect for summer sipping.  Three of the best widely available Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand to look for are: Kim Crawford, Cloudy Bay, and Dog Point, all around $20.