Sauvignon Blanc with Riesling
I do not fear low acid wines for food, there’s a lot to be
said for crisply balanced, elevated acidity of varieties such as
Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Case in point: In the fall of 1992,
I invited Peter Merriman, one of the founders of the Hawaiian Regional
Cuisine movement, to prepare a meal for me in his style. Whether
he’s aware of it or not, Peter’s palate tends to veer
on the acidic side. So his style of cooking was just the thing I
was looking for. His quesadilla of Puna goat cheese, Kahuku shrimp
and roasted macadamia nuts; fresh Sharwell avocado, pomelo and orange
salad with watercress and arugula in fresh lime with honey; and
sesame-crusted onaga (Hawaiian ruby snapper) with papaya
relish, spicy mango sauce and organic Big Island greens I elected
to match with Bonny Doon "Pacific Rim" Riesling (California)
and Cloudy Bay (right), Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand).
the possibilities offered by the unusually dry yet flowery, fruity
qualities of Bonny Doon’s new-wave style Riesling (from grapes
grown in Washington St. and Germany’s Mosel) are intriguing,
experience and instinct told me that the higher acid wine, the powerfully
aromatic Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc—from one of the world’s
coldest climate growing regions—might prove to be the more
natural partner for these acid-driven dishes. What I didn’t
predict, however, was how well both wines would do what
they’re supposed to do, which is make a dish taste better
than it would without wine.
that? A classic example of how this works is Chèvre, French
goat cheese matched with Loire River-style Sauvignon Blancs (such
as Sancerre). Sharing common qualities of sharp acidity and somewhat
earthy grassiness, Chèvre and Sancerre have long been considered
one of the best, if not predictable, food and wine combinations
in the world. The goat cheese produced in the Big Island of Hawaii,
however, is milder and less acidic than traditional Chèvre
of France. In the same fashion, the taste of Hawaii’s Kahuku-raised
shrimp is somewhat milder than shrimp raised in most parts of the
mainland United States.
So if it was just a mild dose of acidity and flavor that Merriman’s
goat cheese and shrimp quesadilla needed, it certainly was found
in the moderately crisp, fruity-scented Bonny Doon Riesling. But
the exuberantly zested, melony, citrusy and grassy qualities of
Cloudy Bay seemed to slice, dice and beg the palate to come back
for bite after bite of shrimp and goat cheese in the quesadilla.
In the second course, the dominant factors were the buttery avocado,
the pomelo’s plump, pink grapefruit taste, and the slightly
bitter edge of the greens. With the lime infused vinaigrette acting
as a conduit, the Riesling’s crisp, fragrant fruitiness did
a neat job of balancing out the leafy, citrus taste of the salad.
But again, it was the more intensely flavorful Cloudy Bay that added
a more palate-freshening dimension to this tropical style dish.
With the onaga—a meltingly soft, mild and lush white
Hawaiian fish—Merriman snuck in a Malaysian chili spice into
the mango sauce, and so this sweet/spice interplay as well as the
crunchy freshness of the green beans all seemed to benefit equally
by the steely edge of the Riesling and the lavish, leafy greenery
in the Sauvignon Blanc. These two wines, from two different grapes
from different parts of the world, both make light, contemporary
tropical island dishes even fresher and livelier to the taste.
• Dishes utilizing vinaigrettes, citrusy (higher acid) fruits,
chili spices, and slightly bitter edged mesclun and other greens
could definitely benefit from higher acid varietals like Riesling
and Sauvignon Blanc (and maybe to a lesser extent, medium acid varieties
like Pinot Gris and Albarino).
• Although one may be conditioned to reach immediately for
authentic Loire River grown Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé when
served a good Chèvre, you can also find a good match in any
number of the world’s newer, crisp acid styles of Sauvignon
Blanc, such as those of New Zealand and the West Coast of the U.S.—especially
when goat cheese is used as a component in a dish with other ingredients.
• Dishes utilizing tropical fruit as a component, or in a
relish or sauce, do particularly well with more highly perfumed,
tropical fruit toned varieties—beginning with exuberantly
fruity Rieslings, and extending to the aromatic, fruit driven styles
of Sauvignon Blancs from the New World.