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WINE SAVVY: Pair summer with Sauvignon blanc

Few things compare to summer in Duluth. With sunlight extending from 5 a.m. to almost 10 p.m., the days hold so much promise. After winter, the warmth of the summer beckons us out of the house to enjoy the sunshine. Activities like sitting on the deck, swimming in the lake and dining outside are quintessential summer activities. If that nagging voice in your head says you should be working on this, or working on that, take a moment and remember, you survived winter. Relax.

If you want a summer wine to pair with your break, head to the liquor store for New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Once there, you should find at least a few bottles that all share the same location, Marlborough.

New Zealand is a country which is comprised of two main islands, the north island and the south island. Both of these are in the south Pacific and are about 1,000 miles east of Australia. The two islands are about the size of Colorado, the south island is slightly bigger. The north island is the most populated and is home to ¾ of New Zealand's 4.6 million citizens. At the very northeastern tip of the south island is a rugged area with steep hillsides that plunge to the sea. It is known as the Marlborough Sounds.

It was here in the late 1990s that the New Zealand wine industry first burst into worldwide attention, and they did it with Marlborough sauvignon blanc. These wines are deliciously aromatic. The aromas of lime, grapefruit, ripe tropical fruit with a slight or in some cases pungently herbaceous undertone make drinking it like sipping fresh air. The wine is bright and crisp, making the mouth water just slightly.

The wines from the Marlborough region are so flavorful that they now have set the standard for new world sauvignon blanc, and their success came as a bit of a surprise. The south island is more rugged and colder than the north island and conventional wisdom for growing grapes is that you need some place that isn't too rainy, cloudy or cold. In Marlborough, around the town of Blenheim, where the Wairau River flows to the sea and where the mountains to the west catch the rain, it can get quite warm. Sensing that this place might be good for grapes, enterprising winemakers started to plant vineyards in the 1970s.

The winemakers suspected that the gravelly soils of the river valley would be well-suited to sauvignon blanc and more importantly the days are warm and dry. These warm days helped ripen the grapes, but it is the nightly sea breezes off the cold Pacific Ocean that make this area so special. The temperature variation between day and night, about 15-20 degrees, allows the grapes to build up sugar levels during the day but retain high levels of fruit acids at night.

This is the perfect condition for wine because without sugars you can't get fermentation but without acids a wine will taste flat and bland. A winemaker needs both to achieve a good balance. Once New Zealanders figured out that the Marlborough region could consistently produce these conditions, they never looked back. The wine industry now accounts for more than 20 percent of Marlborough's GDP and continues to grow each year.

Marlborough sauvignon blanc is widely available. Good examples retail for about $15. I recently enjoyed a bottle of Matua Marlborough sauvignon blanc (available locally) at lunch on my deck with fresh mozzarella and basil, tomatoes, olives and balsamic vinegar. I paired this with a recent sunny day and my best friend.

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