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It's pH Thing

I love Sauvignon Blanc because I am an acid freak.

One way to think about the flavor of wine is in terms of certain primary components, measured along orthogonal axes. Great Wine Made Simple uses four: Dry, Crisp, Oaky, and Tannic. Chardonnay is where the Oaky axis most often comes into play, as we talked about last week. Some Sauvignon Blanc also has oak character, but usually the axis we’re interested in with it is Crisp.

Crisp-ness comes from acidity, or more specifically from the way the acid balances with the other components. If the acid is prominent, the wine is tart, often carrying with it a lively character. If it’s not, it tends to me more mellow. And much as I like my Chardonnays less oaky and more minerally, I like my Sauvignon Blancs with lots of acid. When I drink Sauvignon Blanc, I want a wine that makes me sit up a take notice.

So how I do find these? In France, Sauvignon Blanc comes primarily from two regions: Bordeaux and Sancerre. In Bordeaux, it’s often blended with another white grape, Semillion, and made in a fuller-bodied, lower-acid style. In Sancerre, however, where the climate is cooler, it makes bracing, high-acid, minerally wines. In the United States, it’s made in both of those styles, so again, tasting notes are useful. For clues as to style, look for the same sorts of things we talked about with Chardonnay: malolatic fermentation, new oak, stainless steel, etc. But if you really want a wine that will knock your socks off with acid, look to New Zealand, particularly the Marlborough district. These wines are always very acidic, usually with grassy or herbal flavors. I do remember drinking a bottle of Brancott Sauvignon Blanc from about 2002 or so and realizing it tasted like a lemon tart in a bottle.

While we’re on the subject, I find that acidity is a key factor in pairing food and wine. In particular, you want a wine that’s more acidic than the food. Otherwise the wine will taste — for lack of a better term — flabby. Having Chicken Piccatta, with that lovely lemon and caper sauce? Skip the Chardonnay and go with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

So what Sauvignon Blanc is in my cellar? Not a lot, because we tend to go through it pretty quickly. High-acid Sauvignon Blancs don’t tend to benefit from a lot of aging, so we don’t hold onto it long. We do have the Fiddlehead Cellars “Hunnysuckle” (Santa Ynez Valley), Domaine Daniel Chotard Sancerre (Sancerre), Twomey Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley), and Clifford Bay Awatare Valley Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough), which I’m sipping right now.

Any other acid freaks out there?


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Reader Comments (1)

I'm not really an acid freak or a huge fan of Sav Blanc, but if you ever find yourself planning a wine and gaming trip to NZ, let me know.

September 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHamish

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