I’ll admit to a certain bias toward Sauvignon Blanc. There’s a bit of back story there. With me, there always is.
Ever been homeless? I haven’t, exactly, but I came so close that I had to make contingency plans for it. I was hit hard by the dotcom bust of the early 2000s. My then partner and I were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was already tired of how crowded and expensive it was (the rich irony being that I ended up in Hong Kong, but that’s another story), already thinking of leaving, and then I had the bright idea to move us up to Portland. To lay the groundwork, I flew up there a couple of times to check out the work situation, look for a place to live, and so on. It didn’t take long to find a job (even in that environment, I was in a high-demand line of work and had very little trouble staying employed), and I quickly sussed out the fact that Portland was a pleasant, walkable city with decent transportation. We’d be fine.
No one in the professional community I belonged to had the balls to mention that the place where I found a job was in major financial trouble and (get this) not actually paying their employees in full. They would pay somewhere between a half and a third (or less) of what they owed, claiming hardship but getting away with it because they were kind of the only game in town. No one told me because they were too scared, and I walked right into it. If not for some freelance work I had on the side, we’d have ended up on the street, and we almost did anyway.
My ex’s relatives saved us. He’d grown up in Seattle, and his cousin had a spare bedroom. She took us in. Never mind her cocaine issues and her frequent overnight visitors and the fact that no one had cleaned the refrigerator since the Carter administration. There was a weird dome of ice in the fridge section. The freezer was leaking, and it had formed like a stalactite one cold drop at a time until it looked like the cupola of the White House upside down. Even so, it was a better deal than sleeping in my Honda Civic, which was otherwise what was going to happen had we attempted to stay in Portland.
In the end, I did get most of the money I was owed by my horrible former employers: I went into the office one day after I’d stopped working for them, informed them that I was leaving only when they had written me a check, and sat in the lobby for something like four hours. When it was clear that I wasn’t leaving, they wrote me a check. (A colleague in similar straits tried this — I was the first to do it — and they threatened to call the cops. I think he got his money out of them too.) They ended up in bankruptcy not long after that… but so did I. There’s actually a lot more to this story, and it’s actually far worse than this (someone died, other people almost died, the relationship ended, and the job I found in Seattle wasn’t a huge improvement over the Portland situation), but you get the idea.
Amid shattering loss, you sometimes take outsized delight in small discoveries, so much so that they can symbolize a sort of turning point: you can come back to them without being brought down by memories of all the awfulness you endured. In this case, it was a wine. We were living/staying/crashing near Seattle’s U District, but on the side where things get kind of upscale, so the supermarket where I shopped had a better-than-decent wine selection. That’s where I discovered Giesen, whose Sauv.blanc and Pinot Noir are available here in HK (but no longer within the price point I talk about in this blog).
I’d never had much Sauvignon Blanc, and theirs is about as good as it gets.
The price now reflects that.
It’s not outlandish (last time I checked, I think it’s less than HK$200/bottle), but I don’t use it for my daily anaesthesia needs either.
At the time, it was perfect. Our flat (well, the one we were sharing) in Seattle wasn’t air-conditioned (in Seattle, one rarely needs it), and we’d crashed there at the height of summer. The wine itself was cheap: I think it was less than US$10/bottle, which I could afford (having just been through horror, I wasn’t in the mood to abstain), and it was fucking excellent. Sauv.blanc when it’s good is sublime: it’s as refreshing as lemonade or perhaps more so because it carries the added benefit of getting you drunk; it’s tart and aromatic and slightly sweet but not too much (when it’s good); it’s got this great combination of the summer fruits that you would want to taste in that kind of weather. Chardonnay just doesn’t compare. It’s too smoky and complicated, and it’s so rarely done well. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad wine. I just don’t think it has its own personality, like a supremely talented actor you don’t recognize from one movie to the next, but who has also done a few too many paycheck roles.
Ever since, I’ve been a bit of a Sauv.blanc fanboy, and I know what it works well with and what it doesn’t. It’s a great hot-afternoon white. It goes pretty well with certain foods, and with others, not so much. I know that the ones from New Zealand cost too much at the moment (skip Marlborough and buy Hawke’s Bay), and the ones from parts of Chile are still mostly flying under the radar. These days, I think Chile, South Africa, and Provence are the regions to look at. But anyway, let me get on with the bottle of pointlessness I don’t think I’m going to finish:
Marks & Spencer Le Froglet Sauvignon Blanc (2013).
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: I’m a big fan of M&S’s wine offerings. They do interesting things with interesting grapes, and sometimes the wines they offer punch so far above their weight that it’s just ridiculous how good they are (more on this one later). There are three wines in their HK Le Froglet offerings: the Sauv.blanc, a very bland Syrah, and a rosé. The rosé is the only one of the three that’s worth your time. The Syrah is intermittently good: I’ve tried it several times over the years and had good ones and bad ones. When it’s good, it’s soft and appealing and quaffable. When it’s bad, it’s a fuzzy bottle of formlessness, which is about the best thing I can say about this Sauv.blanc. (Oh. I also really like the label, which I think is a specimen of design genius.)
According to the label, it’s a kind of easy drinking, floral white makes a heart-warming aperitif. It also works brilliantly as a match with fresh seafood and fragrant salads, and it tastes of fresh melon with vibrant fruit flavour. I’m sorry, but heart-warming? White wines aren’t supposed to be heart-warming. Movies in which Julia Roberts dies and wins an Oscar, maybe. I’ve had a Merlot-Malbec blend that made me feel pleasantly toasty on a cold winter’s night. But this? Not so much. The odd thing about this wine is how little there is to it. I think you could make it with about ten parts water, one part lemon juice, and two parts vodka. Maybe throw in something tropical, like a splash of mango juice or a couple of mushed gooseberries, for effect.
It’s thin in the mouth, there’s no actual flavor (just implications of flavor), and all you get is a bite of alcohol on the tongue just before you swallow it. There’s no finish, either. You might as well have taken a shot of Absolut Citron. Or just drunk a gin and tonic, which when done right is also far more fulfilling and doesn’t leave you feeling like a twat for having spent money on it.
I’ve seen a few blogs elsewhere by people who claim to like this stuff. My only explanation is that M&S pays them to say this. If a representative from that company is reading this, you’re welcome to pay me too. I like a lot of your wine, just not this one!
Here’s what you should be drinking instead:
I got this (a 2012) free at Oliver’s for purchasing HK$500 worth of groceries, but I think it was within my price range anyway. Here’s what a good Sauv.blanc ought to taste like.
Okay, obviously I’m not drinking a 2006, but the 2013 I just finished was fantastic. I’m not a Chardonnay lover, as I’ve mentioned. When it’s good (hello Puligny-Montrachet) it’s really good, but when it’s not, it’s like giving a pencil sharpener oral pleasure. The Semillon pairs gorgeously with it. The Chardonnay adds smoky complexity to the Semillon’s light, citrus-y goodness. This stuff isn’t too sweet, it’s versatile, and it never strikes a false note on the tongue. You can’t go wrong with this one, and I’ll be buying more of it.
And, finally, a red:
Yes, Beso de Vino again, this time the Selección, It’s 85% Syrah, 15% Grenache. And it’s ridiculous. Robert Parker gave it a 90 once and, just, yes. I brought the bottle I’d had in my wine fridge to my birthday party on Sunday. We went to Cheung Chau to visit friends who’d moved out there, and I brought this along (plus a terrific Chilean white I’ll write about later). It was a bit austere out of the bottle (but my sommelier friend liked it right away, regardless). Then it opened up and was just sick: rich, light enough to drink in the subtropical swelter, capable of standing up to my chocolate birthday cake. If there has ever been a red wine for both the newbie and the sommelier, this would be it. It’s like the perfect example of why I am doing this wine blog. I know so many people who think that you can’t get anything decent for less than HK$300 or so. If it’s not French and pretentious, forget it. And the result is Bordeaux that never moves beyond its austerity or Burgundy that just tastes rancid. Or, like, Barolo which I want to like but don’t. Back to the Selección: if you buy a bottle (and you should), open it at least an hour before you plan to drink it. Two hours or even three would be better if you have the time. Don’t let it sit out in a hot apartment, though. That probably won’t end well. And if you have a decanter, use it.
At the price point, this is probably the best red wine in Hong Kong.
I mean it.