Chilean goodness: Concha y Toro Trio Chardonnay – Pinot Grigio – Pinot Blanc (2013)

Blogging is hard. You have to stay focused. No matter how much I may want to rant about matters from other areas of my life, this isn’t the place for it. So, after several deletions, here we go.

I’m kind of a fan of Concha y Toro’s Trio series. I’ve had more of the two white ones (the Chardonnay – Pinot Grigio – Pinot Blanc blend as well as the Sauvignon Blanc) than the reds. Mostly this is down to the climate here: it’s too hot for red much of the year. You can drink them, but if you don’t finish the bottle, the ambient heat will kill it the next day. In any case, if you dismiss Chilean wine out of hand, especially the budget stuff, this one is a great example of why you are delusional.

Earlier vintages have done very well in the ratings: Robert Parker gave the 2012 an 86, I believe. Someone else gave the 2010 a 90. And at this price point (about HK$89, depending on where you shop), this wine is just ridiculous, it’s so good. The three varietals balance each other well, adding up to a lot more complexity than you’d expect. The wine has a slightly greenish cast in the glass, reminding me of Semillon for some reason. There’s a hint of the smoke you expect from Chardonnay, plus lime at the beginning, then a bit of melon and minerals before it goes down the hatch. It’s acid enough to be crisp and refreshing, but luscious enough to offer balance.

Really, it’s hard to say anything bad about this wine. It’s better than cheap and cheerful; it’s actually good… yet another of these wines you can choose over more expensive alternatives and feel very comfortable that you’ll enjoy it.

As for pairings, well, whatever. The usual seafood and white-meat suspects. Or pair it with a big fat steak if that’s what you’re into.

I’m similarly happy with the Trio Sauvignon Blanc, as well. Rather than combining three varietals, this one combines Sauv.blanc from three Chilean wine regions. It’s a terrific alternative, and not as stony as the Casablanca wines can be (although that territory is represented here too.

In a word, yay.

You should drink this stuff. It’ll make you very happy.

Trio_Chardonnay

Advertisements

Interesting.

Last time I went to Park ‘n’ Shop, all but one bottle of the 900 Grapes Pinot Noir had sold out. I bought the last one. Do I think this happened because I blogged about the stuff and said it was good? No, of course not, but I also have no idea who and how many people are reading this.

Quick tidbits (because I am feeling blogger guilt about not having updated this as often as I would like):

1. To be strictly honest, I’m drinking less these days. Now that I’ve left The Job That Ate My Life, I no longer come home in the afternoon clutching my head in abject horror, drained after yet another day of restraining myself from choking the shit out of the fucking idiots running the place. I’m not going to say where I was working. But I will say this much: when in the space of one year, 8 out of 10 full-time staff quit, there’s a problem. Now, having detoxed, my cravings for anaesthesia have diminished.

2. I’m all about the airplane bottles, and some are quite okay, I’m finding:

  • Marks & Spencer Gers (pleasantly dry, good fruit, a drop of sweetness on the finish but not bad at all)
  • Marks & Spencer Cava (better than it has to be, and it bubbles, which sometimes you just need)
  • Paul Sapin Landscape South Australian Cab-Shiraz (on the dry side but pleasant)
  • Paul Sapin Landscape South African Chenin Blanc (generic white wine and could easily be Pinot Grigio, but drinkable)

The first two are on sale at any M&S food store; the second two come from those displays of colorful little bottles one finds in Aeon and those other Japanese supermarkets.

Yes, I understand the economics: it’s more economical to buy an entire bottle. However, if you’re not keen to waste it (especially read, which can’t be kept overnight and through the next day in this heat at this time of year), or if you’re a moderate drinker who’d only like a single glass in the evening, these are a great option. Even better, some of them actually don’t suck. The Gers in particular has been a favorite of mine for a long time. M&S used to sell the full-sized bottles here too, but discontinued them for some reason. It’s a shame. I’d totally buy them.

3. Oops, out of time. Off I go.

 

900 Grapes

Yes, Virginia, it is possible to buy a good bottle of Pinot Noir for less than HK$100.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure. First of all, it’s summer, so I haven’t been drinking much red wine. Lately, however, I’ve gotten a little tired of the Sauvignon Blanc – Riesling – Anything But Chardonnay trifecta. And with the scorching heat, I’ve had all three air conditioners set on high, creating just the right climate for a good red. And, ladies and gentlemen, I seem to have found another one.

First of all, let’s go back a bit. That’s how I roll, after all. Pinot Noir and I have a bit of sweet history. Back in the day, when my sister was still the one in the family who knew about wine and I didn’t, I would read wine reviews in the Washington Post and hope to retain something. I usually didn’t. So much vicarious information flowed through my head during my former life as a sign language interpreter that the stage was set for my current vaporous remnant of a memory. However, on one occasion, an exception proved the rule: I remembered a wine review while I was in a winery, recognized the label, and bought a bottle of the wine I’d read about a couple of days before.

In this case, it was a Santa Barbara Winery (US) Pinot. I’d never had Pinot before, and it would be quite a few years before I was to have another one. The Post raved about this wine. I can no longer tell you what vintage it was, nor what the critic said, only that he heaped high praise upon the stuff and made it sound as if my life wouldn’t be complete without trying some.

A few days later, I was in Annapolis with my family. We stopped in a wine shop in the old town area. They had the Santa Barbara. It was priced at around… hmm. I want to say I paid about US$27 for it. This would have been… 1998 or so? I leave you to guess at what today’s price must be. Slightly terrified, I bought a bottle (feeling sure the cashier must have been able to see right through me with X-ray eyes that showed what a pathetic know-nothing I was) and took it home, unsure when I’d ever find the balls to actually DRINK IT.

Eventually, I did. I have no memory of the occasion, only of the impression the wine made on me. People weren’t exclaiming Oh my sweet baby Jesus quite so much back then, but you get the idea. I had not had enough red wine to have much of an opinion. For that matter, I had not had much red wine at all. What I’d had… if memory serves, it had all seemed rather tannic and unpleasant, probably to do with having been consumed long before it was fully open. Friends talked about liking red wine and I was like Why? It seemed like something — like plays, poetry, and works of classic literature — you were supposed to say you liked whether you really did or not.

The details of that bottle are long gone. I’ve consumed a lot of Pinot since then (I lived in Portland, after all, and had Willamette Valley Pinots with dinner more nights than not) and know a good one when I’m drinking it. The best I can say is that that bottle of Santa Barbara taught me that red wine might really actually taste good. It wasn’t just bullshit, it was for real.

Fast forward several years. After that time in DC, I’m not sure when the next time was that I had another Pinot. I remember a wine tasting I attended with a friend. There were several. I don’t remember being wildly impressed. I think I might have put Pinot on the “probably not” list (which I still have; Tempranillo is #1 with a bullet, followed by Garganega, Grüner Veltliner, and any of the Muscat/Moscato variants), in fact. During the four years I lived in Northern California, I drank a lot of Merlot and Syrah. White… not so much. The occasional Chardonnay. Various Bonny Doon (and Ca’ del Solo) whites (Big House White, Viognier, and the Rieslings) whites. But my little corner of the Bay Area was cool enough that I could drink red during much of the year and generally did.

In Portland, where one is surrounded by tax-free Willamette Valley goodness, I started drinking more Pinot and was forever spoiled. Once you’ve lived in a place where the “as good as it gets” version of whatever you like is available in cheap, luscious abundance, you’re ruined for life. I was in a bad relationship then (for what it’s worth, most of my adult life prior to my current relationship was a horror show in that department) and needed to anaesthetize my sorrows (the Portland guy was a rebound, a terrible mistake). For less than US$10/bottle, I could drink liquid Nirvana and often did.

A few years later, when I moved to Korea, I almost cried when I found a wine shop that sold Oregon Pinot. I spent US$50 on a bottle. And I drank it that night. It was therapeutic on so many levels.

Which brings us to the present. Long before Sideways ruined Pinot by making it popular and inspiring any number of wineries to grow it in unsuitable climates, I was drinking the good stuff. I have now glommed onto good Burgundy, as well. I don’t have the wallet for regular Volnay but I usually have some in the wine fridge.

All of this is a long way of saying I think I can tell when I’m drinking a good Pinot. And, somewhat to my surprise, I’ve found a decent cheap one: 900 Grapes. Their 2012 Pinot sells at Park n Shop for about HK$99/bottle. I’ve already had their Sauvignon Blanc (same price, also quite good, better than the price would lead you to expect) and liked it very much. Tonight I was in the mood for Pinot and had a “why not?” moment.

900-grapes-pinot-noir-marlborough-new-zealand-10618267

Nice surprise #1: it opens up quickly enough that you can drink it more or less out of the bottle. I use a very good aerator, so I do have a bit of an advantage. If you don’t have one, you should invest in one now. Even by the first glass, I knew I was onto something good. The color is a pleasant shade of (wait for it) burgundy. I live in a polluted Asian city, so I won’t comment on the nose. I have minimal sense of smell and near-constant post-nasal drip.

My tongue still works, however, which brings us to nice surprise #2: it tastes good. The label (I fucking love this winery’s labels) tells you to expect dark cherries and wild thyme. I agree about the dark cherries. Without having read the label, black cherries was actually my first thought, plus something like blackcurrants or possibly black raspberries. Despite its lightness, this wine tastes intriguingly black. Yet it’s very light, which is surprising. It shouldn’t make sense and won’t till you drink it. There’s an underlying earthiness to it. I didn’t get thyme from it, but I was thinking tobacco and possibly oregano. Something herbal without it being vegetal per se. There’s also a discernible but not unpleasant or overpowering woody/vanilla thing going on from the oak.

This all adds up to a very nice wine. Are there better ones out there? Of course, but you’ll pay four or five times as much for the pleasure (although Marks & Spencer does have an excellent single-vineyard Chilean Pinot for HK$198/bottle). I like this one almost as much as I like my favorite Oregon Pinot that’s readily available here (Cristom), and quite a bit more than I like a few of the other ones I’ve had. This is a Pinot you can hang out and drink if you are having a night in and want something that will (a) look pretty in the glass, (b) taste very good, and (c) give you an elegant buzz as you work your way through the bottle. You can pair it with food — I’d have it with pork or chicken dishes, salmon, pad Thai, dark chocolate, or (ideally) all of the above. It ought to taste good with potatoes. It’s too tannic for sushi, but if you’re craving red with your raw fish, you could do worse. Hell, I’d rock a bottle of this stuff with fish sticks. I’ve been cooking ostrich lately, too. I think it’s too light to go with that particular delicacy (Shiraz-Cab, on the other hand, is amazing), but you could try. Bottom line: it’s Pinot, so you’re unlikely to fuck up too badly, and even if the food pairing isn’t perfect, who cares? The wine itself is really very good, and if you’re trying to get laid, it’s likely to be a great underwear-remover.

Before I wrap this up, I also want to give their Sauv.blanc a shout out. It’s also on sale here (I understand 900 Grapes also has a Chardonnay and a Pinot Gris or Blanc, but I haven’t seen them) and it’s also delicious. Bottom line, it’s got the same Marlborough goodness you’d expect (citrus, grass, tartness) without being too sweet or too dry. My impression was it’s one of those wines you can overlook amid bigger-flavored competitors. But if you want a really good Sauv.blanc that ticks all the boxes without being too in-your-face, this one is an excellent option.

Both of these have been very nice surprises. I already knew there was decent Sauv.blanc to be found at this price point. The Pinot Noir, though… I kind of didn’t see that coming, and I thought I’d be spending almost twice my Plonktastic price point in order to find a good one. I’m very pleased to report that this isn’t necessary.

The World’s Oldest Bottle of Wine…

… sounds pretty fucking disgusting, if one were to actually try it. However, from a cultural and scientific perspective, this is fascinating stuff, over 1600 years old!

http://www.fromquarkstoquasars.com/meet-the-worlds-oldest-bottle-of-wine/

As for me, I’ve been debating with myself over the merit of keeping the price limit of this blog HK$100. There are fewer choices than there were when I first conceived of this approach. Prices here, unlike salaries, keep going up. For now, though, I’ll stick with it, but I’m considering raising the limit to like HK$150 or something.

2011 Wild River Riesling (Mount Brown Estates, NZ) + a couple of other shout-outs

I’m one of those people who has more ambitions than time to fulfill them. I have a full-time job, I run a small business on the side, I’m doing a PhD, and I’m a writer. On top of all this, I do occasional freelance gigs for extra cash (as the aforementioned PhD is not cheap). So if I don’t get to update this blog as often as I’d like, I have good reasons. This also explains why (a) I limit my focus to wines that cost HK$100 and below and (b) why I drink so many of them (not to put too fine a point on it). At the end of the day, after I’ve gotten more done than the average president of a small country, I’m usually ready to relax with a couple of glasses.

So.

First of all, I’m glad to say I’ve found a good Riesling in this price range. The one I blogged about earlier (Moselland) is all right but sweeter than I generally prefer. It’s fine for food pairings, and people who like sweeter wines will probably enjoy it (which isn’t to say it’s sweet, not at all, just on the sweet side, off-dry, which is a different thing). However, this one, Wild River Riesling (2011, Waipara Valley) from New Zealand’s Mount Brown Estates, is a find. I picked it up for HK$99 at Park ‘n’ Shop after having looked at it and passed it over several times, worried it might be either cloying or watery. You never know. Anyway, I’m happy to report it is neither, and if you want an alternative to the usual white suspects, it’s terrific.

Out of the bottle, it’s a bit more tense than whites tend to be, and there’s a peculiar bitterness. At first, I couldn’t tell what I was in for. Was it corked (unlikely, given that it had a screw cap) or did it just suck? The winemaker’s website is not particularly descriptive, telling us the usual blah about lemon and lime notes, and spicy floral whatever whatever. It’s a Riesling, guys. No shit. Some of my favorite Rieslings are intensely limey, not unlike my new British colleague. I’m going to be maddeningly specific, here. If you’ve ever had a fresh lime soda at a good Vietnamese restaurant, think of the balance of flavors: the alkaline soda water, the tart swirls of citrus, and (if you’re lucky) just enough syrup to raise the level of sweetness to the point where you can enjoy it without the drink making your mouth pucker. As the wine opens up, that bitterness in the middle diminishes–it gives way to a pleasant minerality. In Hong Kong’s stifling, pre-typhoon muck, this stuff goes down fast. If you’re on your way to Park ‘n’ Shop before the weather turns to shit tomorrow, and you want something other than the usual Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, grab this stuff. Just leave me a bottle or two, pretty please?

As far as food pairings, I almost want to skip this part. First of all, it’s a Riesling, which means it has the acidity to stand up to anything you throw at it. Although this one isn’t as acidic as others I’ve had, it’s quite tart. I mean, it’s not Malbec, and when I cook ostrich steaks for my boyfriend this weekend, I’m not going to serve it to him. If he’s in the mood for red, I’ll probably open the Nerello Mascalese. But I call Riesling the king of whites for a reason. When it’s good, it ticks all the boxes: it’s crisp, aromatic, and refreshing; it pairs well with the usual range of fish and white meats; it’s not Chardonnay and people are a little scared of it, so rocking a good bottle makes you look very knowledgeable. Besides, those food-pairing things are getting ridiculous. You pan-fry fish with Thai spices how many days of the week? Or, like, when you’re drinking a red, you have wild boar sausages or Stilton cheese… when, exactly? I like wild boar sausages as much as the next guy (and yes, I have had them), but still. It’s ridiculous. If you don’t have any idea what to pair with wine, do some fucking reading online, and once you get the basic idea, it’ll all start to make sense.

Or just play it safe. Pinot Noir, Champagne, Prosecco, and good Cava go with everything.

Wild River Riesling 2011

In any event, this is going to be one of my go-to wines for the foreseeable future. It’s very good, and — despite the number of times I have said this already in this blog — it is much better than it has to be at this price point.

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to comment quickly on a couple of others. I have made another quite decent discovery: Les Jamelles. I’m late to the game, I know. This is another one of those winemakers (they’re a couple, actually) with the right combination of a personal vision, a great patch of real estate, and a no-bullshit approach to getting the fundamentals right. I’ve had both the Pinot Noir and the Sauvignon Blanc recently and been very impressed with both. Look for more about them in the future.

I’ve also had a rosé I found disappointing this year, Marks & Spencer’s Rosé d’Anjou. When I discovered it a couple of years ago, I really liked it. An intriguing pale shade of burgundy, much darker than the usual rosé, it calls attention to itself from the bottle. When I tried it for the first time, I remember it having a robustness that set it apart from its paler pink brethren. When I tried it again this year, I found it a little too sweet. Yes, the label and the website describe it as off-dry, so it’s not as if there’s any false advertising going on. It’s a blend of Cabernet Franc (a grape I love and would like to have more of) and Grolleau (a grape I know nothing whatsoever about), it’s pleasantly drinkable (if you liked kiwi-strawberry Snapple in your teens, you’ll love the fuck out of this stuff), and it’s really not bad. It’s just that I’ve had better rosé lately. Even M&S’s cheaper Le Froglet rosé is — to me — a better wine. Basically, I’d recommend the d’Anjou if you are (a) curious about rosé and want a non-austere starting point, (b) in need of something a touch sweeter and with a bit more body, and (c) don’t mind that extra drop of sugar.

Did I just damn this stuff with faint praise?

M&S Rose dAnjou

The good, the bad, and the meh, part 1.

I’ll do this in order of fondness. The one I really want to talk about is d’Arenberg 2012 White Ochre: Viognier – Marsanne – Roussanne. As nearly as I can tell, this is an export-only offering from Australia’s d’Arenberg. From a consumer standpoint, sometimes I find it odd, living in a place like Hong Kong: with a population of 7 million, it’s too small to be a priority for much of anyone other than luxury brands who want to sell upscale shit to rich Chinese people. Although there’s no end to the McLarens and Rolexes and Maybachs and what-have-you, the selection at the supermarket is a bit off sometimes. On the one hand, it’s a vast improvement over Seoul, where I used to live. There’s actually an excellent selection of wine, for one thing, plus quite a lot of the organic/healthy/green/Commie/pink shit I like to eat. (When I still lived in the States, I think I put some Whole Foods executive’s kid through college. Ditto Trader Joe’s.) So I no longer have to cry when I travel, visit the grocery store, and see an array of things I’ve actually heard of and would like to eat. On the other hand, there’s this sense of being an afterthought. When I can’t even find this wine with a Google search, that suggests it’s a dreaded export-only label. As in: “Well, we’ve got all these grapes left over, so let’s bottle it, sell it cheap, and send it to Lower Slobbovia.”

When I lived in California, I knew there were knockoff wines like that, although they stayed local. The big wineries would do something similar with their excess grapes. Rather than throwing them away, they’d vinify them and sell them cheap (usually like US$5.99/bottle) under other names. I never bothered to do much more than cursory research, but I did find some interesting stuff by staying in the sub-US$10.00 range for my general beverage needs. So I’m not opposed to this idea at all. If the grapes are harvested, they should be used, not wasted. And in this case, the result is better than just good enough — it’s really something else.

I’d seen this stuff in the supermarket (Park ‘n’ Shop, Fusion, etc.) — not just the white, but also the Red Ochre variant, which is a Grenache – Shiraz – Mourvedre (which I picked up a bottle of tonight and will be talking about at some point) — and been curious about it. Previous experiences with Marsanne/Roussanne wines hadn’t ended well. It was like drinking wine-flavored cough syrup. My curiosity got the better of me, however, and I picked up a bottle. Why not? After all, there was Viognier to offset the syrupy weirdness, and if worse came to worst, I could pour the shit out.

The verdict: I think it’s one of the best cheap (HK$89/bottle, or something like that) whites in Hong Kong, and it’s a hell of a lot better than wines I’ve paid five times as much for. It does everything right. First of all, although I haven’t been able to determine the proportion, I think it’s mainly Viognier, but with enough Marsanne and Roussanne in it to provide body. While I like Viognier, I sometimes find it too dry and floral, the kind of wine you appreciate rather than enjoy. It’s not that it’s bad, but there are other things I’d rather drink. I have no clue what Marsanne and Roussanne are supposed to taste like on their own, so I can’t comment further. Suffice to say that in this case, we seem to have a pleasing balance. The Viognier’s good points are retained (crispness, floral notes, dryness without austerity), but there’s more body and complexity without the astringency I’ve found in bad ones. That Marsanne/Roussanne syrupy mouthfeel isn’t there. The color is a pleasant pale yellow in the glass, nothing that calls attention to itself. It’s crisp, and you do get a bite of alcohol (although this mellows out as the wine opens up). As for the flavor notes, this is where it gets rather difficult. What I came up with after the first bottle (a week or so ago) was that it tastes the way daffodils smell, only not cloying. Inasmuch as there are citrus notes, I’m thinking yuzu, not one of the better-known fruits like lemon or lime (neither of which it resembles at all). I also get something like pear or quince from this (I tried quince once to see what it tasted like), as well as… lavender? That’s strange for a white, but it’s there. Sort of an herbal quality without seeming vegetal.

To be honest, I am intrigued that I cannot figure out what the hell this wine tastes like. Which might make it sound like a train wreck. It’s not. It’s as if the winemaker (whoever that might be — I’m thinking some talented Aussie oenology grad student, maybe a hip lesbian with cool tattoos and a pierced nose) invented something uniquely itself, something quite a bit greater than the sum of its modest parts. This could have been a bottle of cast-off nothingness, but it isn’t.

There’s not a lot it can’t do, either. For summer-afternoon drinking, it’s awesome. Bring it to your next rooftop party and amaze your friends. With light dishes, it’s almost as food-friendly as a good dry Riesling. There’s enough acidity to cut through any lingering fat, but I also think it will play well with the complex flavors of a salad. I’d drink it with spicy Thai dishes or even Sichuan (provided it was very cold and I had enough bottles to make sure we all staggered out of the restaurant completely blasted, which is the only way to eat Sichuan). Obviously it’s not a wine for steaks (which I don’t eat anyway), but other than that, I think it’s a hard one to find fault with!

Pressing on.

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.

But.

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.)

Image

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:

Image

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.

Image

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:

Image

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.