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Courtesy of Franciscan Estate Napa Valley
Ah, Sauvignon Blanc. It’s zesty, it’s crisp, it’s loaded with citrusy zing, it whets the appetite and it tastes great served cold on a hot day. And, once in a while, it smells like a green pepper exploded in your glass.
Those aromas—shading from cut grass to green pepper to jalapeno—come from the presence in the wine of naturally occurring compounds called methoxypyrazines, which tend to be more present in cooler climate and/or underripe Sauvignons. (The specific compound is 2-methoxy-3-isobutylpyrazine, an excellent conversation-stopper for your next cocktail party.)
Now some people, unsurprisingly, don’t like wines that smell of green peppers, and, honestly, most winemakers don’t like them either. But a certain amount of grassy greenness does give Sauvignon its allure for some folks. In the end, here’s my advice: If you like the peppery intensity that Sauvignon Blanc can have, head toward cooler climate regions, like New Zealand, South Africa’s Cape area and France’s Loire Valley. If you don’t like it, stick to warmer climates—Napa Valley would be a classic example.
Oh, and that cat-pee aroma people sometimes find in Sauvignon Blanc? That’s mercapto-4-methyl-4-pentan-2-one. As any self-respecting tomcat will be happy to tell you.
A good, not-green-at-all Sauvignon Blanc:
2010 Franciscan Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($17) Mellow lemon-citrus and melon notes are the focus here; it’s appealingly crisp but definitely not on the peppery side.
A good, lightly grassy Sauvignon Blanc:
2010 Geyser Peak California Sauvignon Blanc ($13) Mostly from cooler coastal California vineyards, this is very impressive for the price—an ideal balance of zesty grapefruit with very light, freshly cut grass notes.
A good, quite peppery Sauvignon Blanc:
2011 Graywacke Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($19) Kevin Judd, proprietor of Graywacke, was the winemaker for 25 years at Cloudy Bay, the iconic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc producer. The third vintage from his solo project is terrific: intense passion fruit flavors, and there’s no mistaking that classic New Zealand peppery bite.
Related: Sauvignon Blanc Pairings