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The Diversity of Sauvignon Blanc

Historically I have not been one of Sauvignon Blanc’s biggest fans, finding it rather wearing after a glass or two. Sauvignon’s big draw is its hugely aromatic scent, but it is exactly this rather brash trait that leaves me a little underwhelmed. Too often behind all the perfume is a hollow and sometimes hard wine; a one trick pony.

Yet like so many grape varieties, Sauvignon does possess what it takes to be great. Anyone who has ever tasted Domaine de Chevalier’s white from Pessac Leognan knows how intense, complex and elegant this variety can be. Two regions of the world where the styles are often the antithesis of each other are, Marlborough in New Zealand and Sonoma County, California. Marlborough is synonymous with the most effusive examples, floral, fruity and bright. The best from California (usually labelled ‘Fumé Blanc’) are more restrained. These wines are often fermented and matured in oak giving a sweeter fruit style and, in the best examples, have added complexity from time spent on lees and from their slow exposure to air.

The two Sauvignon Blancs below would make for a great comparative tasting. The Matua is a premium example from Marlborough. It has greater depth, weight and concentration than is normal for the region, whilst retaining all the flamboyance that has made Marlborough Sauvignons famous. The ‘La Petite Etoile’ has a more restrained character with a leesy, nutty and bruised apple aroma that reminds me of Chenin Blanc from the Loire. The warmer climate of Sonoma (in comparison to the other great Sauvignon regions of the world) is partly responsible for this more muted style and the use of the Musqué clone adds extra richness and body. Whichever style you prefer, both are excellent examples and are worth seeking out.

I have included a review of the delicious Chianti Classico Riserva from the ‘La Route’ range, for those of you who prefer red. This was my wine of the afternoon and mature enough to have allowed sufficient softening of Sangiovese’s naturally rather strident tannins.

 

Matua, ‘Lands & Legends’, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, 2013, 13.5%
Grape: Sauvignon Blanc
Wine-making: No oak, this is all about fruit purity and intensity.
Note: Ultra clean but not boring Marlborough Sauvignon, that has extra intensity and focus in comparison to many of its competitors. That extra concentration comes at a premium but is well worth comparing with the Fume Blanc below to experience the vastly different styles that Sauvignon can produce. Delicious.
Price: 1,500NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: La Route 02 8780 0959

 

Chateau St Jean, ‘La Petite Etoile’, Russian River, Fume Blanc, 2011, 14.5%
Grape: Sauvignon Blanc, includes a portion of the ‘Musque’ clone which adds a little extra aromatic and textural dimension.
Wine-making: Barrel fermented and two thirds matured in a mix of old and new French oak for 8 months.
Note: Engaging, complex and classy. Nutty, leesy and with bruised apple and citrus aromas that are supported by a ripe but savoury and persistent palate. Very good, a Sauvignon version of Savennieres.
Price: 1,200NT
Score: 16.5/20
Available from: La Route 02 8780 0959

 

Castello Gabbiano, Chianti Classico Riserva, 2009, 14%
Grape: 95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot
Wine-making: Maturation in both old and new oak.
Note: A ‘proper’ Chianti that already looks old in the glass with its rich, garnett colour. Leathery, herbal and dried strawberry nose coupled with some spice and very fine powdery tannins. Mature and delicious, this is perfect drinking now and comes highly recommended.
Price: 1,300NT
Score: 17/20
Available from: La Route 02 8780 0959

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The W Taipei

Although no longer the newest big hotel in town (the Mandarin Oriental is the wearer of that crown) the W remains Sniff’s favourite.

The secret is in the service, the ease with which anyone can navigate the drinks/wine-list and the relaxed and hip hedonism that pervades the bar space here. Too many Taipeian establishments remain mired in the past, sporting onerous beverage menus that make little sense, are intimidating and bear no relation to the environment (the bar or restaurant) that they are representing. The W exists without a sommelier, and I like a good sommelier, so a great deal of credit must go to Kenny Miau (W’s Beverage and Food manager) for providing a list that is extensive yet compact enough not to warrant the expense.

I have to confess some bias here as a friend and ex-student of mine, the excellent Nancy Wang works in the W’s top floor Yen restaurant where both commanding views over the city and great food can be had. The employment of skilled people like Nancy, who has worked for luminaries such as Gordon Ramsey, helps explain why the W offers an experience that is so easy to appreciate by both those from within and outside of Asia. They know what they are doing.

On speaking with the knowledgeable and affable Cary Gray (W’s General Manager), I was keen to ascertain the top performing drinks at the W. On the wine front these are Kim Crawford’s Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Veuve Clicquot Champagne. They also sell a wide variety of cocktails with the ‘Flirtini’ their best-seller. I’m more of an ‘Old-Fashioned’ kind of guy but for those in search of voguish modernity, the W should be visited, just remember to book.

Listed below are the W’s biggest selling tipples, plus my favourite…

Kim Crawford, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, 2013,12.5%
Grape:
Sauvignon Blanc
Wine-making: Stainless steel, this is all about the fruit
Note: Clean and fresh with passion-fruit and pink grapefruit. Very Marlborough and very suitable accompaniment to Taipei’s sub-tropical climate.
Price at the W: 2500NT per bottle, 500NT per glass (plus service)
Score: 16/20

Veuve Clicquot Yellow label, Champagne, N.V, 12%Grape: 50% Pinot Noir with the balance made up of Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay
Wine-making: On lees for at least two years
Note: Classic, biscuity style of Champagne that is dangerously easy to drink due in part to the lack of any acidic bite (a result of the dosage’s effect of rounding out the seam of acidity that underpins this Grand Marque).
Price at the W: 4800NT per bottle, 690 per glass (plus service)
Score: 16/20

The Flirtini: How to make one, courtesy of the W.

Ingredients:
30 mls of Raspberry Vodka
15mls of Cointreau (Triple Sec )
30mls of Pineapple Juice
20mls of Raspberry Puree
5ml of Lime Juice

The Mix Method:
Add all ingredients to the mixing glass (a Boston Shaker is what you need)
Add ice and shake well
Strain into a chilled Martini Glass

…Garnish?
Redcurrant if you have them to hand…

Price at the W: 400NT
Score: another please!

 

The ‘Old-Fashioned’, this recipe is lifted from the great Charles Schumann’s ‘American Bar’

Ingredients:
1 sugar cube
dashes of Angostura bitters
2oz of Bourbon
Soda
Stemmed Cherry
Orange
Lemon

The Mix Method:
Place sugar cube in an old-fashioned glass (a tumbler)
Saturate with the bitters
Add orange and lemon wedges
Press with a pestle or muddler
Add Bourbon
Stir well, add ice cubes, top with soda
Stir again and garnish with cherry

Price: This is priceless, my go-to cocktail
Score: With good bourbon and patience when stirring (you need some of the water in the ice to melt) this is a 19/20.

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