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Thursday, May 24, 2007

California & New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

With its green skin and witchy tendency to “savage” grassy aromas, this varietal has long been the mainstay of white wine production in western france, particularly Bordeaux. Today it’s become the fashionable chef’s wine, and has an entirely new wine region-- Marlborough on New Zealand’s South Island-- turning out award winning entries by the score. Indeed, Sauvignon Blanc has emerged in the last ten years as the top alternative to Chardonnay and sales have rocketed.In Bordeaux, the Sauvignon has always been used to add nervosite to the traditional white blend with Semillon. This is as true of sweet Sauternes as it is of dry white Graves, but in the upper Loire, at Pouilly and Sancerre, 100% Sauvignon wines are made from grapes grown on chalky soils that give flinty overtones to match with the famous smell of “cats pee on a gooseberry bush”.California began growing Sauvignon back in the 1880s, but despite some successes, it languished for decades, undone by its tendency towards overly strong grassiness in California’s warm climate. Then Robert Mondavi produced Fume Blanc by ageing it in oak, taming the wildness of the grassy odour, adding oaky vanilla and coming up with a hit wine that sold millions of cases. Since then the experiments with oak have come and gone, other winemaking tricks have become the norm and American Sauvignon Blanc has become very fine indeed, with great examples from both California and Washington State. At Aroma Thyme, up here in Ellenville, we’re fond of both the Lolonis Fume Blanc with its strong fruitiness, and the Benziger North Coast Sauvignon Blanc which is a little more restrained on the fruit, and has nice oak, grass and herbaceous overtones. There’s apple on the nose and the usual nice acidity that chefs love from this varietal. But where Sauvignon Blanc is concerned even California has been overshadowed by competition from the southern hemisphere, because South Island, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has become the global pace setter. We’ve had great success with the Jackson Estate Sauvignon Blanc, from Marlborough, and also with Babich Sauvignon Blanc, another Marlborough entry, which is Chef Marcus Guiliano’s favorite white wine right now. With mineral qualities, some of that flint that is renowned from the Loire, and lovely peach and apricot scents, this is a great wine for anything from seafood to asian fusion dishes. However, the Marlborough wineries can’t rest on their laurels. New entries from California are upping the competition. We’ve just received the Hanna Sauvignon Blanc from the Russian River, which is a lovely, supple package of some grassiness married to attractive mineral notes and finished with some lime and a slight herbal quality. Really nice with fish or white meats, as is generally true of good Sauvignon Blancs from anywhere, because we’re seeing them now from Chile and South Africa, Western Australia and Spain. With its lower alcohol levels and its high natural acidity, Sauvignon Blanc hastaken its place as the best first choice for an interesting white wine with dinner. The competition for top honors will go on and wine drinkers are going to have a fabulousarray of wines to choose from. Chris Rowley

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We would never expect you to eat this shrimp, nor do we serve farmed Asian shrimp

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