Remember the days of summer barbecues and outdoor gatherings? This year, more than ever, the nostalgia is real. We’re all craving normalcy, and if you’re anything like me, a glass of cool French white wine on a hot summer day feels like the perfect kind of normal. Here are five classic summer French whites along with some delicious food pairing ideas to make this summer feel like the good ole days of 2019. Enjoy!
Sauvignon Blanc is a refreshing, fruity, and herbal wine that is perfect for summertime. In France, Sauvignon Blanc grows mainly in the Loire Valley, with a small portion coming from Bordeaux. In the Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc is almost always produced as a single-varietal wine, whereas in Bordeaux, it is often blended with Semillon or Muscadelle. In the cooler Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc’s flavors are more herbal and green. This is because of an aroma compound called methoxypyrazines, which is responsible for the vegetal or green pepper smells in wine. Plus, with cooler temperatures comes higher acidity since the grapes don’t have as much heat and sunshine to develop sugars (i.e. to ripen). In Bordeaux, where the summer temperatures can be quite hot, the aroma profile of Sauvignon Blanc tends to be driven by tropical fruit notes like passionfruit, grapefruit, and pineapple. This is because as the berries ripen more, they lose that green, grassy character to make way for other, fruitier varietal aromas. Plus, Sauvignon Blanc from Bordeaux tends to be higher in ABV (around 12-13%) than from the Loire (around 10-12%), since riper grapes contain more sugars that will be converted into alcohol.
Herb-rubbed white fish and grilled asparagus
With its crisp, herbal flavors, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley pairs well with white fish like cod or tilapia. Cover the fish in a lemon pepper or dill rub before cooking it for an even better pairing. The grilled asparagus rounds out the meal with a green crunch.
Grilled lamb skewers with cucumber mint tzatziki
The smoky, grilled lamb and radishes are brightened with the cool cucumber-mint tzatziki for a perfectly balanced meal. For a touch of heat, add a cayenne pepper rub to the lamb before it hits the grill. This dish, with its herbal tzatziki sauce, is perfect for pairing with Sauvignon Blanc.
Riesling tends to get a bad rap for being sweet, but actually, most French Rieslings are dry! This grape is planted in Alsace, the small wine region in Eastern France that flanks the border of Germany. Alsace has cool, breezy nights in the summer even if the days can be quite hot, which helps retain acidity in the grapes. Dry styles of Alsatian Riesling tend to be harvested on the earlier side, which means they still have bright acidity. In the glass, this translates into a mouth-watering wine.
On the nose, Riesling is aromatic and slightly floral. On the palate, it is light-bodied, with flavors of honey, lime, green apple, and jasmine. Thanks to its high acidity, Alsatian Riesling is also a great contender for aging. In aged styles, the wine can take on a petroleum flavor, which is thanks to a compound called TDN that develops from the breakdown of other molecules in the wine called carotenoids. No matter what style or age you choose, Alsatian Riesling is not to be overlooked!
Spicy pad thai
For spicy food, don’t be afraid to get an off-dry (i.e. semi-sweet) Riesling. The sugar will coat your mouth to reduce the burn. Plus, the wine’s bright citrus and floral flavors are a great contrast to the rich, umami pad thai sauce.
Chicken and rice bowl with mango avocado salsa and cilantro
This dish would be great with a Riesling that has just a tiny hint of sweetness to balance the sweetness of the salsa. The aromatic nature of Riesling makes it a good pair for aromatic accouterments like cilantro and mango.
The Marsanne/Roussanne blend is typical of the Rhône Valley. Marsanne is a highly aromatic grape, with flavors of apricot, honey, and pear. Roussanne is a powerful grape that gives body to the wine and has flavors of lemon, brioche, apricot, and chamomile. When young, these blends show citrus, melon, and mineral character. But they are certainly worth the wait. Aged Marsanne/Roussanne takes on almond and quince flavors that add depth and complexity. For a real treat, try one that is at least 10 years old. When oaked, it is very reminiscent of an oaked Chardonnay. Sometimes, Viognier is added to the blend, which adds a floral perfume.
These blends pair fabulously with seafood, especially richer seafood like shrimp. For a foolproof pairing, try shrimp scampi with bright lemon, parsley, and garlic. The weight of the dish, with its buttery sauce, will match well with the body of the wine. And the wine’s bright lemon and mineral notes will be a perfect match with the flavors of the dish.
Lobster rolls are a special summertime treat that calls for an equally special wine. An aged, oaked Marsanne/Roussanne blend would not only match lobster rolls in terms of weight but would add a deeper complexity, with nuances of sweet corn and almond.
Chenin Blanc is a grape grown in France’s Loire Valley. It creates amazingly diverse wines thanks to its suitability for many different styles, including sparkling, still, semi-sweet, and even brandy. In the Loire Valley, where the temperatures are cooler, Chenin Blanc tends to be picked when it has very high acidity, making it a good candidate for sparkling wine. A fantastic summer wine is a dry-style sparkling Chenin Blanc from Vouvray. With its flavors of pear, honeysuckle, apple, and ginger, this wine is great for whetting the palate during a pre-dinner aperitif.
Who said French fries only pair well with burgers and beer? Because dry sparkling styles of Chenin Blanc have very high acidity with tiny bubbles, they make a great candidate for salty, fried foods. A sparkling Vouvray with french fries is like a match made in heaven. To make it classy, you could do roasted potato wedges sprinkled with parmesan, garlic, and rosemary. Serve it with a garlic aioli dip.
Sweet and sour chicken
A sweeter style of Chenin Blanc is best for this dish because the wine’s fruity sweetness and high acidity will balance with the contrasting sweet and sour flavors of the chicken. Plus the fattiness of the dish is balanced by the body of the wine.
Just like Riesling gets mislabeled as sweet, Chardonnay often gets overlooked for being a simple, basic wine. The reason Chardonnay is so popular across the world is that it is highly suitable for a variety of climates and soils – but this doesn’t mean everyone does it well. If you want a high-quality and decidedly “un-basic” Chardonnay, look no further than Chablis in Burgundy, France. The wines from Chablis tend to be unoaked, which gives a light-bodied, crisp wine with chalky, white flower, pear, and citrus flavors and medium-high acidity. In the heat of the summer, there is nothing better than cooling off with a glass of Chablis.
Spinach salad with walnuts, gorgonzola, and pear w/ honey vinaigrette
A salad like this begs for a light-bodied white wine with a complementary flavor profile. A Chardonnay from Chablis fits the bill perfectly with its pear and citrus flavors.
While Chablis is landlocked, it pairs surprisingly well with oysters. The reason lies in the area’s geography. During the Jurassic period, Chablis was covered by a saltwater ocean. Today, its soils are still made up of the crushed shells and sediments from the ocean floor, which translates into a touch of salinity in the wine. There’s a piece of trivia for when you’re sipping a Chablis at your next oyster cocktail party
Charlotte is a Master of Science candidate in Wine and Vineyard Sciences in Bordeaux, France. Her passion for wine developed thanks to a bartending gig at a little French wine bar in Washington, DC. Eventually, she quit her desk job to manage the wine bar full time. Hailing from Northern Vermont, she is fond of outdoor hockey rinks, local ski hills, and farm-to-table food and drink.
Photo Credit: Pad Thai @unsplash the-creative-exchange; French fries – @magnusjonasson @unsplash; Herb-Rubbed Whitefish @AdobeStock