Wine Time

Wine of the Week: Cat Piss in Your Wine? No, That's Jalapeño

Of all the "aromatic" white grapes in the world, there is probably none more distinctive than Sauvignon Blanc.

In France, it can be steely and intensely fragrant, as in Sancerre where it often takes on a cat piss (more properly called "tom cat") note on the nose. In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is used in blends to make some age-worthy dry white wines, with bright acidity that confers its longevity. And in Sauternes, also in Bordeaux, it is used in blends to make one of the world's most coveted and collected wines, the "noble rot," botrytized sweet wines that have been known to age for more than 100 years in some cases.

In Friuli (in northeastern Italy), some top sommeliers call this grape the region's "secret weapon": the classic fresh grassy notes of the Sauvignon Blanc grown and bottled there are balanced by nuanced white stone fruit flavors.

In America, we came to know Sauvignon Blanc as "fumé blanc" in the 1960s, a marketing ploy that equated northern California Sauvignon blanc with one of its most famous expressions from France, Pouilly Fumé (across the river from Sancerre), where silex-rich subsoils are believed to impart a smokey character (hence, fumé, smoked).

And, then, in the 1990s, we witnessed the advent of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in the U.S. As these wines began to arrive here, critics lavished praise on these fresh, clean, bright expressions of the grape variety grown there, known for their powerful citrus character and -- in many cases -- a distinctive jalapeño note. One wine writer wrote famously that "drinking your first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was like having sex for the first time."

For less than $20, you can find the Craggy Range Martinborough Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc at many retailers in Houston (I picked up the above bottle at the Houston Wine Merchant). With vibrant, clean citrus (think grapefruit) and passion fruit notes, this wine paired brilliantly with take-out chicken fajitas the other night at my cousins' house, where the acidity in the wine worked well with the heat of the salsa and richness of the guacamole.

And don't be afraid of the screw-cap; the New Zealanders have pioneered the use of screw-caps in wines intended for drinking in their youth. Not only does the screw-cap reduce the number of defective bottles, it also helps to revive the overcropped cork industry, saving the precious bark of the cork tree for wines that really need it.

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine and modern civilization for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen