Issue 29

Sauvignon Blanc – Better than Chardonnay in Wine Food Pairings?

Sauvignon Blanc – Better than Chardonnay in Wine Food Pairings?

Sauvignon Blanc has long been regarded as a second class wine, being continually outflanked by Chardonnay – a situation that remains to this day. However, Sauvignon Blanc has in recent times experienced an increase in popularity. It is crisp, refreshing, not overly heavy, and has a varied though distinctive flavor profile. In an attempt to receive high scores for their wines, many winemakers tend to make Chardonnay fit the palate of the gurus who rate the wines. As a result, Chardonnays have a tendency to taste alike. This is especially true for the California version.

Sauvignon Blanc is grown worldwide and makes distinctive wine with unusual aromatic flavors. The most remarkable components of its flavor profile are the green vegetal, gooseberry, citrus, herbal, and black currant flavors, which give the wine an exotic flare. The black currant flavor found in Sauvignon Blanc is unusual, as it is almost always associated with red wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon. Along with clean, refreshing, flavor supporting acidity, these varietal characteristics make Sauvignon Blanc a choice white wine to be used in wine-food pairings.

The structural makeup of Sauvignon Blanc is founded on a hefty concentration of sapid flavors supported by a solid core of tartness, and in some wines, an occasional dash of sweetness. In California the wine is usually aged in oak and blended with Semillon, a soft, round, low acid wine. Virtually all white Bordeaux wines (all are Sauvignon Blanc based) receive similar treatment. The blending and oak treatment rounds out the wine and makes it richer, softer, more complex, and fuller bodied – and more Chardonnay like. However, such ministrations take away from Sauvignon Blanc’s food-friendly nature, as food pairings are more successful with lighter, tarter and less cumbersome wines. Sauvignon Blanc wines from New Zealand, and the French wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé do not see oak and are unblended. These wines and other such unadulterated versions represent the best choices for matching with foods.

The characteristics that make Sauvignon Blanc so successful in wine-food pairings are the green vegetal and herb flavors, which mirror similar flavors in foods; its medium body, which places it in a position to play both sides of the weight spectrum; and its racy tartness which reduces the weight of foods, and invigorates and enhances the flavors in the dish.

By contrast, Chardonnay is full-bodied and should only be matched to full-bodied dishes. However, because of its hefty weight and low acidity, pairing it with full-bodied food often makes the combination cloyingly heavy and rich. I find it peculiar that Chardonnay commands such a major role on the menu of most restaurants in spite of the fact that it is rather limited in its ability to pair with foods.

Because of its green flavors, Sauvignon Blanc is a great match with dishes containing green vegetables such as asparagus, artichoke, spinach, and bell peppers, the likes of which are difficult to match with most other wines. It is a perfect wine for green salads in vinaigrette dressing and other light, tart foods, as the high acidity of the wine will not be washed away by the tartness of the dish. Fish, often served with a fresh squeeze of lemon, have a great affinity to tartness, which Sauvignon Blanc can readily provide. Salty foods such as ham, sausage, corned beef and the likes need wines with good acidity, and Sauvignon Blanc can fill the bill.

If you want to amaze your dinner guests, try Sauvignon Blanc for just about any dish that incorporates goat cheese, especially feta. The salty, tart, rich flavors in the cheese have a one to one correspondence with the structure and flavors in this versatile, food-friendly wine.

If you need a white wine to match to a particular food and are in doubt, try a Sauvignon Blanc. You’ll most likely be pleased. Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most food-friendly wines produced.


Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts

(serves 4)

4 skinless and boneless chicken breasts

10 good-sized brine-cured black olives, seeded and sliced

3 T finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes

2 T chopped fresh basil leaves

4 fresh basil leaves

2 T Wondra flower (may substitute regular flower)

1 T olive oil

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Mix together the olives, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, and cheese.
  3. Pound chicken breasts so that they are uniform in thickness but not flat.
  4. Make a deep pocked in each breast starting from one of the sides.
  5. Divide filling between breasts using a spoon and your fingers
  6. Season each breast with salt and pepper. Be careful with the salt as the cheese and olives are already salty.
  7. Sprinkle each breast with a light dusting of Wondra flour
  8. Heat oil in a fry pan over medium-high until hot and fry chicken for 2 minutes on each side to brown.
  9. Place in a baking dish and bake chicken in the middle shelf of the oven for about 15-17 minutes or until cooked through. Do not let chicken dry out.

Garnish the chicken with fresh basil leaves and serve with a young, good quality New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.


What makes the match?

This recipe has an abundance of salty components, (goat cheese and olives). Salty foods give the impression of being tart, and the acidic, sweet, and flavorful sun-dried tomatoes add to the perception of tartness. Tart foods call for wines with equal or greater tartness. What’s more, the basil (green, herbal) flavors in the dish associate with similar flavors in the wine. Both wine and food are medium bodied. The summation of these characteristics neatly ties the wine to the food.

John Fischer

John Fischer

Dr. John Fischer is a member and two-time president of the Omaha Branch of the International Wine & Food Society, past director of the Nebraska chapter of LADV, and the founding member of the Council Bluffs Branch of the International Wine & Food Society. He teaches a course on matching wine with food at the Institute for the Culinary Arts in Omaha and is the author of the books, “The Evaluation of Wine – A Comprehensive Guide to the Art of Wine Tasting” and “Wine and Food – 101.”

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