New wave sauvi­gnons

The re­cent crop of “al­ter­na­tive styles” will help Marl­bor­ough de­velop from overnight sen­sa­tion to a re­spected wine re­gion, writes John Saker.

The Press - Your Weekend (The Press) - - Drinks -

Twenty years or so ago there were real fears that the Marl­bor­ough sau­vi­gnon blanc ex­press was headed for de­rail­ment. It was not an un­rea­son­able line of thought. When prop­erty spec­u­la­tion, rather than the bot­tled prod­uct, be­comes a cen­tral mo­ti­va­tion for in­vest­ing in a wine re­gion, the words “mar­ket bub­ble” start to res­onate.

Ques­tions were be­ing asked about the wine, too. It was em­bar­rass­ingly easy to make, yet very prof­itable. How long could such a wheeze last, espe­cially as wine mar­kets are driven by fashions and trends as much as any­thing?

You only had to look at the ex­am­ple of the pop­u­lar Ger­man white wines of the late 60s and early 70s. Blue Nun and Black Tower, once ubiq­ui­tous, crashed and burned al­most overnight.

Sor­rows cer­tainly came to our largest wine re­gion af­ter the GFC and the un­ex­pect­edly large, in­dif­fer­ent 2008 vin­tage, but ul­ti­mately Marl­bor­ough sau­vi­gnon blanc proved to be a re­silient in­fant. The dooms­day sce­nario never ma­te­ri­alised.

How so? Be­cause it has some­thing Blue Nun, Ma­teus and the like will never have: a dis­tinct sense of place.

It says a lot about Marl­bor­ough’s re­mark­able ter­roir that this “some­where­ness” can shine through de­spite over­cropped vines, chem­i­cal-prone farm­ing and recipe-driven wine­mak­ing.

To­day, Marl­bor­ough’s sta­tus has shifted from overnight sen­sa­tion to es­tab­lished wine re­gion. The level of re­spect it will at­tain de­pends on how things evolve from here.

An en­cour­ag­ing devel­op­ment is that more wine pro­duc­ers are show­ing a more in­quis­i­tive at­ti­tude to­wards the grape that made the re­gion world fa­mous. The short­hand for what they are do­ing is mak­ing “al­ter­na­tive styles” of sau­vi­gnon blanc.

Th­ese are con­sid­ered wines. They of­fer a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from the racy, grassy “clas­sic” style of sau­vi­gnon. Lower crop lev­els and tech­niques such as bar­rel fer­men­ta­tion give th­ese new wave wines weight, tex­ture and less ob­vi­ous (but more fas­ci­nat­ing) flavour pro­files. They also per­form very well along­side food.

Th­ese al­ter­na­tive sau­vi­gnon blancs are de­servedly get­ting a lot of plau­dits. Just don’t ex­pect them to take over the re­gion any time soon. The clas­sic Marl­bor­ough style still makes too much money for too many peo­ple for that to hap­pen.

TRY TH­ESE Greywacke Wild Sau­vi­gnon 2015 $37.95

This de­light­ful wild fer­mented sau­vi­gnon fair crack­les with en­ergy. White peach, ap­ple and goose­berry flavours are un­der­pinned with fine acid­ity and a flinty seam, which adds to the tex­ture and drive.

Nau­tilus The Paper Nau­tilus Sau­vi­gnon Blanc 2016 $35

This wine is all about tex­ture – a mouth­feel that is both re­sis­tant and creamy. It runs tight lines, of­fer­ing nec­tarine and yel­low fruit notes along the way, and re­solves with a dry, mouth­wa­ter­ing fin­ish. A great ex­am­ple of what Marl­bor­ough can do.

Christchurch’s con­crete box re­build has not done res­tau­rants many favours. Like so many cen­tral city cafes, Ja­panese restau­rant Kumo in Ad­ding­ton is tucked into the ground floor of a non­de­script of­fice build­ing. To find the main en­trance, you have to walk past its win­dows and a Pita Pit, and en­ter the of­fice block’s lobby.

But that en­trance­way is im­pres­sive, flanked by two huge Ja­panese paint­ings with a clus­ter of in­dus­trial chic light­bulbs hang­ing over them. The space looked sleek, pol­ished and sparse, even when the restau­rant was full.

As Christchurch’s only sushi train restau­rant, the ap­peal is clear. What’s not to like about be­ing seated along­side a con­veyor belt of sushi?

But clas­sics like tuna (maguro) and omelette (ta­m­ago) were in the mi­nor­ity. Most were more creative – if that is the word for a Hawai­ian roll of av­o­cado, pineap­ple and ba­con, driz­zled with may­on­naise or a chicken nugget roll topped with sweet and sour sauce. I wasn’t tempted by ei­ther although the teenager with me gave the chicken nugget roll a thumbs up.

Each dish came on a coloured plate that in­di­cated cost, from $2.80 green to $6.50 white.

As well as two-piece plates of sushi, the con­veyor belt of­fered ap­pe­tis­ers in­clud­ing edamame, pop­corn shrimp and even desserts, along with pots of wasabi and pick­led gin­ger.

Among the high­lights were takowasa, raw mar­i­nated oc­to­pus with a wasabi sauce that de­liv­ered a pow­er­ful hit of ocean; sweet seared scal­lops; and shi­romi, with a very fresh tast­ing but­tery, lo­cal white­fish. But in gen­eral the down­sides of the con­veyor belt’s con­ve­nience were all too clear: the food was mostly at room tem­per­a­ture and some of it had clearly been cir­cu­lat­ing for too long, los­ing fresh­ness. I would have pre­ferred the edamame to be warm and the raw fish colder.

The other draw­back of the con­veyor belt run­ning the length of the room was that one side was set up as a bar and the other as booths, mean­ing those seated at the bar per­pen­dic­u­lar to the booths look straight across the belt into the booths. There were plenty of cou­ples on the bar side but it didn’t feel like a place for an awk­ward first date, or a ro­man­tic date at all.

On a Satur­day night the restau­rant was bustling but the ser­vice re­mained up­beat, if spo­radic. It took our server 15 min­utes to of­fer us drinks but since we could help our­selves to the end­less loop of sushi, we weren’t wor­ried when it took a long time to place an or­der for dishes from the kitchen. Our server kept us in­formed and apol­o­gised for the de­lays. Later that night staff posted on Kumo’s Face­book page that it had been one of the busi­est nights since it opened and they hoped they had been able to keep ev­ery­one happy.

Our coloured plate count was mount­ing but hav­ing been un­der­whelmed by the sushi, we or­dered some mains. We had our hearts set on the soft-shell crab but it was sold out. As­sorted tem­pura was beau­ti­fully pre­sented and in­stead of the usual dip­ping sauce, was served with three dip­ping salts: green tea, curry and rose. They looked lovely but didn’t add much flavour apart from salt. How­ever the serv­ing was gen­er­ous and var­ied, with two large prawns, sal­mon pieces, egg­plant, red pep­per, cour­gette, car­rot, and pump­kin.

A teriyaki chicken main was ex­cel­lent, with per­fectly cooked thigh meat and steamed veg­eta­bles dressed with a light teriyaki sauce, not the thick, cloy­ing gloop all too of­ten seen. An eight-piece Cal­i­for­nia roll was also im­pec­ca­bly fresh and tasty, mak­ing me want to re­turn to try other tempt­ing dishes like ra­men and a pork belly main.

For con­ve­nience and the nov­elty fac­tor, it is worth get­ting on board the sushi “train”. But for ex­cel­lent fresh dishes, or­der from Kumo’s kitchen.

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