December 12, 2006
Wake up and taste the wine

While reading through Jennifer Rosen's "The Cork Jester's Guide to Wine" yesterday to prepare for a column on this season's new wine books, I ran across her sharp description of today's livelier style of sauvignon blanc, popular for its crystalline citric fruit and razory acidity: "The sting makes you want to slap your cheeks and go 'Ah!' like guys in aftershave commercials." Precisely.

Though sauvignon blanc is a chilled white wine most closely identified with the lighter foods and the heat of summer, she urges wine enthusiasts to go ahead and drink some even during a winter rain.

Encouraged by her brashness, I unscrewed the cap of a bottle of the Matua Valley Winery 2006 Marlborough Paretai Sauvignon Blanc ($17) last night to pour with a chicken entree intense with garlic, ginger and other rather robust Asian seasonings.

"Paretai," incidentally is Maori for "river bank," and was chosen to designate the wine because the fruit is from a specificlly prized lot along the northern bank of the Wairau River on the northern tip of the South Island of New Zealand.

Matua's new winemaker, Peter Munro, just had arrived as harvest was getting under way (he'd been working in his native Australia), but he sized up the fruit astutely, adapted to New Zealand winemaking quickly, and has made a sauvignon blanc richly representative of the style responsible for the country's high standing with the varietal. It's zesty, shot through with the fresh and revitalizing flavors of tropical and citric fruits - grapefruit and lime, mostly - and has the backbone and structure to dance right along with poultry and seafood dishes no matter how assertively seasoned they may be. And, yes, I suspect it would get Jennifer Rosen's stamp of approval for the way it slaps, stings and makes you feel like you've just shaved and are ready to take on the day.

The Sacramento wine shop Beyond Napa is to get a load of the wine Wednesday.

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