Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc—the Soundbyte: Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world’s major white wine grape varieties, celebrated for its distinctive aromas and bracing acidity.  Its crisp acidic backbone makes it one of the most food-friendly of all table wines.  Sauvignon Blanc is a highly aromatic white wine, and its distinctive aromas can vary greatly depending on terroir and winemaking.  While generally thought of as a single-varietal or blended dry white wine, Sauvignon Blanc is also used to craft luscious dessert wines.

Typical Attributes of a Sauvignon Blanc-Based Wine:

  • Sauvignon Blanc can be made in a variety of styles, based primarily on fermentation techniques and whether or not the wine is blended or oak aged.
  • Botrytis-affected and Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc can be used to produce very sweet, complex dessert wines.
  • Lighter Style, Dry Sauvignon Blancs are generally stainless steel fermented and aged only briefly (if at all) in stainless steel.
    • The typical attributes of this lighter style wine are:  Light Body, Crisp, Delicate, Highly Acidic, Steely, Precise, and Fruity.
  • The richer style, sometimes called Fumé Blanc in the New World, is often oak-fermented, sur lie aged, and sometimes oak barrel aged.
    • The attributes of this richer style include:  Medium Body, Rich, Complex, Smoother, Oak-derived Complexity.
  • Sauvignon Blanc is often blended with Semillon in order to add complexity and tone down its usual razor-sharp acidity.  This style was pioneered in the White Wines of Bordeaux.


Typical Aromas of a Sauvignon Blanc-Based Wine:

Fruity:  Green Apple, Apricot, Lime, Lemon, Green Plum, Melon, Pear, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Gooseberry, Kiwi, Papaya

Herbal/Vegetative: Cut Green Grass, Green Bell Pepper, Asparagus, Fennel, Herbs, Lemon Grass, Hay, Straw, Wildflowers

Mineral:  Wet Sand, Wet Stone, Riverbank, Ozone, Fresh Rain

Chemical:  Ammonia, sometimes referred to as “PiPi du Chat”

Dessert Wine Styles of Sauvignon Blanc can display aromas of honey, dried apricot, peaches, nutmeg and even curry…botrytis-affected wines will have that inimitable “earthy edge”!

Where The Best Sauvignon Blanc is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux Region of France, notably Graves and Entre-deux-Mers
  • The Loire Valley Region of France, notably Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre
  • California’s Napa and Sonoma Regions
  • New Zealand, notably the Marlborough Region
  • South Africa, particularly Stellenbosch
  • The cooler regions of Chile and Argentina
  • Australia, notably The Adelaide Hills Region

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Raw Shellfish
  • Seafood of all kinds
  • Chicken
  • Acidic Sauces
  • Tomatoes
  • Salads, Vinaigrettes
  • Vegetarian Dishes
  • Avocado
  • Asparagus

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients/Flavor Bridges:

  • Citrus
  • Fennel, Bell Pepper, Eggplant, Zucchini
  • Herbs, Mushrooms, Garlic
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Capers, Green Olives
  • Prosciutto
  • Feta Cheese, Goat Cheese

Note: When it comes to food pairings, by all means—drink what you like!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…


Wine Grape Cheat Sheets: Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon—the Soundbyte: Cabernet Sauvignon is probably the world’s most popular and well-known red grape variety.  It is the main grape in the world-famous wines of Bordeaux, and the wine that made the Napa Valley famous.  The beauty of Cabernet is its thick skin, both literally and figuratively.  Literally the grape’s thick skin and small berries give a wine deep color, complex flavors, and hearty tannins.  Figuratively, Cabernet Sauvignon is thick skinned by being resilient to a variety of climates and soils in the vineyard.  Just about every country that has a climate warm enough to consistently ripen red grapes successfully grows Cabernet Sauvignon.

Typical Attributes of a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Wine:

  • Dark Ruby Red to purple, opaque, and almost inky in appearance
  • Young Cabernet Sauvignon is ripe, powerful, and concentrated.
  • Highly tannic
  • Complex with layers of interesting flavors and textures
  • The high level of tannin in Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines makes them among the most age-worthy of all wines.
  • Aged Cabernet takes on grace, finesse, and an earthy, complex bottle bouquet.

Typical Aromas of a Cabernet Sauvignon-based Wine:

  • Fruity
    • Blackberry, Blueberry, Ripe Cherry, Black Currant, Cassis, Plum, Prune, Raisin
  • Herbal/Vegetative
    • Vanilla, Mint, Eucalyptus, Bay Leaf, Green Bell Pepper, Green Olive, Rosemary, Dried Herb
  • Earthy
    • Cedar, Cigar Box, Cigar Smoke, Pencil Lead, Graphite, Tobacco, Wet Dog
  • Oak-Derived
    • Oak, Fresh Lumber, Cedar, Chocolate, Cocoa, Smoke

 Where The Best Cabernet Sauvignon is Grown:

  • The Bordeaux Region of France
  • California and Washington State, the far south of Oregon
  • Chile and Argentina
  • Australia
  • Italy, where it stars in some Super Tuscans, and is used in small amounts in many different wines
  • Cabernet grows successfully in many regions throughout the wine making world…it adapts well to a variety of conditions.

Food Affinities – Base Ingredients:

  • Beef -Prime Rib, Grilled Steaks…it’s all good!
  • Lamb – Bubbly Prof prefers Merlot here, but Cab works!
  • Veal
  • Venison
  • Pork
  • Hard Cheeses

Food Affinities – Bridge Ingredients/Flavor Bridges:

  • Currants, Prunes, Raisins (go easy on the sweetness)
  • Walnuts, Pecans
  • Mushrooms, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Roasted Tomatoes
  • Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Basil, Black Pepper
  • Blue Cheese – but be careful with the bitterness!

The Urban Legend:  The Cabernet Sauvignon/Chocolate Food Pairing:

According to some…Chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon is a match made in Heaven.  For other people, it’s not so great and some people really dislike the pairing! In my Intro to Professional Wine Studies Class, I have my students try out the Cab/Chocolate combination without giving them any hints as to whether they “should” like it or not.  In my 16 years as a wine teacher, I’ve led more than 12,000 students through this exercise, and I estimate that the split is just about 50/50, with women more likely to enjoy the combination than men.

The idea behind the combination is a common flavor or aroma bridge…Cabernet often displays aromas of cocoa or chocolate.

The reason some people do not care for the combination is that sweet food tends to dry out and emphasize the acid/bitter/tannic tastes of a dry red wine.  I personally do not care for it…but all I can really do is suggest you try it for yourself!

Note: When it comes to food pairings, by all means—drink what you like!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…


My New Favorite Sparkling Rosé

A few weeks ago my anh (adorable new husband) and I took a second honeymoon to Niagara Falls.  Actually, I was scheduled to speak at the American Culinary Federation Conference on the topic of wine and food education, but…why miss a chance at a second honeymoon?  We took a few days of R&R after the convention ended, and had a wonderful time!!!

Admitedly, Niagara Falls, at least the New York side where we stayed, is far from a culinary mecca.  However, as it turns out, our hotel was just a few blocks away from a wonderful wine bar, complete with a smart, compact, international selection of wines by the glass and the bottle as well as a delightful menu of plates, both big and small. The name of this gem is “Wine on Third” and it is located in the middle of the entertainment district of Niagara Falls on (you guessed it), Third Street.  From what I heard from my fellow conventioneers and hotel guests, we definitely happened upon the best dining choice in the area when we discovered Wine on Third. 

As far as the falls themselves, nothing I have ever seen can compare in terms of pure grandeur and natural beauty.  We spent a lot of time close to, on top of, and below the falls.  Shields T. enjoyed the outdoorsiness of it all and I love the relaxation and the positive vibes of the falling water. However, as amazing as the falls were, the highlight of our trip turned out to be found not in a waterfall but in a bottle of pink bubbly.

A Trip across the Border

On the Sunday after the conference (complete with gala awards dinner and looooong speeches) ended, we walked across the Rainbow Bridge into Canada and rented a car.  We took off for a lovely drive and headed for the Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region, a mere 15 miles away.  I was expecting a homespun, charming wine country with big red barns, sweet red wines and big yellow tractors.

Let’s just say, I was way, way wrong.

The entire region of Niagara-on-the-Lake is awe inspiring. The vineyards are lovely; gorgeous rolling hills of row upon row of vines bordered by Lake Ontario.  Most of the wineries are big and modern; some almost seemed like  gleaming, shiny shrines to winemaking.  A few more are smaller, artisanal producers of fine wine.  The tasting rooms were sleek and well-staffed. And the wine….let’s just say I am impressed, and have a whole new appreciation of Canadian wine. 

I had done a good deal of pre-vacation research and booked a Sunday brunch at Peller Estates Winery  as our token fine dining excursion of the trip. The winery webpage showed an impressive winery complete with an elegant dining room and a “local celebrity” chef.  The chef, Jason Parsons, turned out to be not just a local celebrity but a genius in the kitchen and we enjoyed not just the best meal of the trip, but one of the best meals of our lives.

Soon after we were seated in the very gracious dining room, my new favorite Sparkling Rosé in the world appeared magically before our eyes.  At least that is what seemed to happen.  In reality, our server brought us each a complimentary glass of Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvée Rosé. 

Those of you who are avid readers of the blog know that I adore a good rosé, especially “serious” rosé, and this is some serious wine.  This is not your mama’s sparkling white zinfandel.  It may have a hint of sweetness in it, but it balances with a bracing, cherry-squirt of acidity and has the complexity of a bottle-fermented sparkling wine to boot.  I detected aromas of strawberry, white peach, watermelon and red currant hovering just about the biscuit-toasty-leesy complexity of sur lie aging.  The crisp, taut flavors of raspberry brioche came rushing through, followed by a lingering finish with just a cusp of lemon-peel bitterness to keep you in a serious state of mind.  If you prefer, go ahead and ignore the annoying tasting notes, just know that this wine is delicious, refreshing and complex.  It keeps your mouth watering with just enough fruity flavors and acidity so that you just can’t help reaching out for one more sip.

On a technical note, this is a methode champenoise, traditionally made sparkling wine based on a blend of 55% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, and 10% Cabernet Franc, all hand-picked from the winery’s surrounding estate vineyards. After a second fermentation in the bottle, the wine is aged sur lie 12 to 14 months, followed by a quick dégorgement and a dosage of the estate’s Cabernet Franc Ice Wine. The Ice Wine dosage adds up to just 25gr/L of residual sugar,  keeping this wine somewhere around what the French would call “Extra Dry” but what I detect as just barely sweet.  That “barely sweet” sweetness is brilliantly balanced with the acidity and bitterness of the palate and the finish.  All in all, this wine adds up to one spectacular sparkler.

You might have trouble finding this wine in the States, as I did.  You could try ordering direct from the winery, if it’s legal in your state, but believe me…this wine is worth the drive to Canada.  Just don’t forget to take a look at that big waterfall on your way out to Peller Estates.

Wine Reviews: Kanu Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2009

My favorite Chenin Blanc for the last 5 years…


Kanu Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2009 – Wine of Origin Stellenbosch

Looking like pale yellow sunlight-in-a-glass, Kanu Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2009 reveals lifted aromas of lime, peach, apricot, and mineral met in mid-air by the pure, precise scent of lemon peel and sweet almond.  On the palate, a thunderstorm of lime precedes a fast grip of minerality and a drive-by shot of almond, followed by a soothing balm of peach and apricot.  Walking a fine, perfectly balanced line between fruitiness and acidity, this wine is as fresh and edgy as a blind date with your best friend’s ex.

Food Pairing Suggestions for Kanu Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2009 :

This crisp white wine, while is has suggestions of a plump full-bodiedness in the texture, shows delicacy of flavor and is taking a lingering walk on the lighter side of life…so I would suggest sticking to lighter foods as base ingredients – fish, shellfish, chicken, cream-based pastas, vegetarian dishes and cheeses. 

I would love to pair this wine with Pecan-Crusted Chicken glazed with Dijon Mustard-Cream Sauce and Gruyere Cheese.  This chicken and wine are a good fit on texture, the pecans will add a bridge flavor to the subtle nuttiness in the wine, and the crisp lemon-like acidity in the wine will cut through the richness of the creamy sauce and the cheese. 

I would also relish this wine served alongside Grilled Salmon with Jalapeno-Mango Mojo.  Once again, we have a texture match, but the flavors in this meet-up do a different kind of dance. The subtle sweetness in the wine would cool the zing of jalapeno heat in a hurry, and the sweet mango mojo will be matched by sweet fruit in the wine, bringing forward the fruit flavors of the wine while relaxing its sweetness.  

As a tip of the hat to the legendary cuisine of South Africa, I would match this wine with Grilled Shrimp with Chakalaka, a spicy, slow-cooked blend of tomatoes, chilies, onion, and garlic.  This wine has the fruit, the acidity, and the crisp, fresh coolness to cut through the heat of the chakalaka and the let sweet, savory saltiness of the shrimp shine through. 

On a different note, if today brings on a balmy afternoon, I might just sip this wine by itself; with my toes in the pool, a close eye on the kids, an even closer eye on my anh (adorable new husband)…that’s always a perfect match!

If you would like more information on Chenin Blanc, click here for my Chenin Blanc Cheat Sheet!