Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fresh Cut Grass

Finally, after months of syringing the lawn to keep it alive, last Friday night we had a whole inch of rain mixed with wind. The lawn reacted to this somewhat insignificant moisture by growing enough to need mowing twice. Rain water must have those extra trace elements and nutrients all green things require.

As I was pushing the old-time rotary mower today, I reveled in the scent of freshly cut grass. What this has to do with wine follows.

This grassy scent reminded me of a characteristic in one of my favorite grape varietals, Sauvignon Blanc. However, unlike other grapes, this one suffers from a multiple personality disorder.

Depending on the terroir, vineyard canopy management that controls sunlight and summer heat, and wine making techniques, like fermentation temperatures, the flavors can range from grassy, grapefruit or citrus to melons and sweetly tropical. Wine writers often use the phrase "cat's pee on a gooseberry bush” or green chiles as favorable descriptions of Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.

It was thought to originate in France along two major rivers, the Loire and the Gironde, the later cutting through Bordeaux. Here in Graves, it is commonly blended with Semillon to “fatten up” the "austere" wine. However, In France’s Loire Valley, vineyards sit in the rolling rocky limestone hills of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume which are full of nitrogen, boosting Sauvignon Blanc's mineral qualities. This fermented juice is kept pure and is found under these distinct appellation names. If you want to explore further, French Sauvignon Blancs also go by such names as Cheverny, Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Touraine.

Sauvignon Blanc made it to California in the 1870s and was one of the first wine grapes in America to be popular enough to get its name on the label, starting in the 1930s. Robert Mondavi introduced a change in cellaring in the 1970s, when he began aging Sauvignon Blanc in oak barrels instead of the usual stainless steel tanks. He also called the wine, "Fume Blanc" to increase consumer interest.

Today there are a growing number of world-class Sauvignon Blancs coming to the United States from South Africa, Chile and of course, New Zealand. A secret of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is blending -- vintners use grapes from as many as 10 different vineyards to make a single wine.

Sauvignon Blanc's alcohol level is generally lower than other whites, and has enough palate-cleansing acidity to cut through Asian, Mediterranean and Latin American cuisines. When slightly chilled, it pairs well with fish or cheese, particularly goat cheese or chevre. It is also known as one of the few wines that works well with sushi.