It was easy in "the good old days".
When I first started learning about the Sauvignon Blanc grape, it was described simply as "usually dry and not too expensive". At that time the grape was only grown in two major areas in France: Graves in Bordeaux and the central vineyards in the Loire Valley.* *
The Seventies - California
In November 1970 I visited the Napa Valley of California, which had about thirty wineries at the time. I was privileged to meet the great man himself, Robert Mondavi, who talked about the Fume Blanc, (his name for Sauvignon Blanc).
"Fume Blanc" was a name thought up by Mondavi in those early days because the name Sauvignon Blanc was hard to sell. At the time people wanted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon. It was one of the great marketing ideas of California wine making. The name change increased the sales of his Sauvignon Blanc dramatically, and was a huge financial success.
As a young man Mr. Mondavi had gone to France to learn about wines. He worked in Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. It was here that he was impressed with the wines of Sancerre, Pouillly Fume, and Blanc Fume. When he started his winery years later, he simply took the name of the latter and switched the words around. Unfortunately he never registered the name, and other California wineries also began using the name. If you go to the Mondavi website you can see that they make different styles of these wines ranging from $15 to $50, www.robertmondaviwinery.com/Fume-Blanc
The Eighties - New Zealand
In the Eighties I owned a small restaurant in the countryside of England. I was offered a taste of a new wine called Cloudy Bay from the South Island district of Marlborough, New Zealand. It was very different from the drier style of SB that I knew from France and California. I put it on the wine list of the restaurant and have purchased it everywhere I have worked since.
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc has almost a cult following in many countries. You could say it is the standard against which all other SBs are compared. The initial wine maker was an Englishman named Kevin Judd, who made every vintage until he recently left the company to start his own winery named Greywacke. Cloudy Bay website: www.cloudybay.co.nz/our-wines/sauvignon-blanc/sauvignon-blanc-2012
During my research for this blog I found that most websites have sold out of Cloudy Bay. Do not despair! The best flavors from New Zealand SBs come from the young wines soon after they are imported. Look out this fall for the 2016 vintage from NZ. Don't pay over $18 and you should enjoy them.
Vintage starts in mid February in New Zealand.
I am drinking my morning coffee, listening to Karen learning French, looking out at the blue skies, and hearing the birds singing. What a wonderful life we have. After working hard for forty plus years, we both appreciate and cherish what we have.
It is 9am, and one of our first activities is to finalize the flight details for our London trip in the fall. Why do I mention this? Because we are always looking forward to something! Short term, mid term, long term - whatever! So today it is. . .
- Short term - Having lunch at Antoines in Nice.
- Mid term - Going to Monte Carlo next Monday.
- Long term - Planning a fall trip to the UK and meeting some of our favorite people.
Because I spent most of my working life in hospitality, I tend to anticipate what a restaurant will/won't be like. This can sometimes make Karen crazy because I critique restaurants while we are out! She tries to get me to take a seat facing AWAY from the kitchen and serving areas!
So here is my "anticipation" of Antoines. We know it is in the old part of Nice. It does not have a website, so I can't browse the menu. The wine list will most likely be a maximum choice of about thirty wines, the food will be very fresh, well prepared and tasty. The atmosphere will be great and all tables will be taken. Great expectations,
At 10:00 am and two hours to "knife off", my goal is to eat just two courses, have water only and stick to a budget.
6:00 pm. It's all over now...the goal? Well - who has a goal when eating good food, right? We had 3 courses and a bottle of wine! And went over budget! We are happy and walking it off!
We were on time for our 12;30 reservation. The place was almost fully booked, and eventually every table was taken. Food was passing by as soon as we were seated. It was "eye candy" to a hungry diner and the big seller looked like steak tartar. (Raw tiny pieces of chopped beef, mixed with a raw egg yolk, onions, parsley, capers, chopped cooked egg white and yolk, with Worcestershire sauce and tabasco added to spice it all up.) This dish is known all over the world, and has been on the menu of the last six restaurants, as has a form of ceviche, and a peach gazpacho.
Karen ordered the ceviche for her first course and generously shared half of it with me. One of the best ceviches we have ever eaten! I had fresh anchovies for my first course and wished I had ordered the ceviche.
The wine list had just under thirty wines: mostly white, some rose and just a few red. I paired our lunch with a 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from the Touraine, a sub district in the Loire Valley. I liked it because it was low in alcohol, high in acidity, and had an explosion of grapefruit, which is what we all associate with this varietal. It married beautifully with Karen's ceviche, my fresh anchovies, and a perfectly prepared piece of cod fish. Now you can see why I began this article with Sauvignon Blanc.
I believe too many of the wine drinking professionals pay little notice of the huge distinction between vintages. The wine we drank was nine months of age: young, and kept cool, making it very fresh in the mouth. The bouquet was very slight, with a hint of grapefruit and melon. There was a medium flavored hint of dryness, with a light acidity, making it perfect for the light, well prepared fresh cod fish. The wine also paired well with Karens braised pork cheek, which was incredibly tender, rich and buttery in flavor.
The condition of a wine is very much controlled by how far it travels and the temperatures experienced on its journey. I chose this wine because it was fairly priced, recently delivered, and was a French wine so would not have traveled far nor been exposed to hot temperatures. It was served in a chilled ice bucket before and during our meal. When you see wines standing up in a hot atmosphere beware, if they are there for a long period of time they will start to deteriorate.
Some websites give scores when rating restaurants, but my opinion will make no difference at all to this very successful venture. I can tell you with confidence; however, that I aim to be back within the next week. (Editors note: and we were.)
An important message for making restaurant choices as holiday travelers like ourselves:
- Local knowledge is far better than websites that post reviews. In our case, we are extremely lucky! Our exchange partners, Michel & Gabrielle held our hands through our first 10 days in Nice by making reservations for us in places they knew to be excellent choices. This has saved us from making our own mistakes by stumbling upon a place, being hungry and just choosing it because it was "there". It has also allowed us to have local advise and not to rely on a rating from a stranger. We know that Michel & Gabrielle love good food like we do and have been so fortunate to have them recommend their favorite places!
2. The majority of restaurant staff are well trained, speak English, and are extremely
well informed about the menu choices. Most of the servers we have met are anxious
to practice their English on us and we, in turn, try to learn more French!
3. Limited menus and wine selections are usually good signs of fresh food and well kept
Food Pairings for Sauvignon Blanc
I suggest white fish with light sauces for the New Zealand fruity styles, and the drier French types go really well with a rich, buttery flavor like lobster or goat cheese. This may seem counter-intuitive, but is a case of where opposites attract. This is why it paired so nicely with the dish of rich and buttery pork cheeks.
Tipping in France....Whatever you are told about tipping, remember that an extra five or ten per cent is considered a kind gesture and is much appreciated.
**For the wine experts who read this, Saint-Bris Sauvignon grapes are grown in a special appellation just south of Chablis in Burgundy. If you take wine examinations or enter competitions it is always a popular question.