Normally we choose a grape and a region (the last one was Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile) and ask each couple to bring a bottle, costing less than $20. I wrap them up and we do a blind tasting. This time I assigned a grape for each couple to bring. The assignments were:
- Sauvignon Black
- Pinot Gris
The meal was fantastic. We started with a variety of artisinal goat and sheep cheeses, followed by fresh local swordfish on the grill, accompanied with an orzo salad and followed by a salad of fresh garden greens. Desert was lemon cake with fresh strawberries.
We poured samples of each wine and started tasting and making notes. The cheeses were accompanying this course, and we all noted that cheese makes any wine taste better. Our first wine to taste (Orange yarn) turned out to be Pinot Gris (Alsace, Cave de Turckheim, 2006, 13%, $17). It was beautiful in the glass, and people commented on fruit and citrus flavors. Several of us guessed (incorrectly) that this was a Sauvignon Blanc. Many of us drink Pinot Grigio as a regular everyday white, and I think that what threw us was that this was a French wine rather than Italian or Californian wine.
The second wine to taste (Blue Yarn) was a Sauvignon Blanc (Sincerely, South Africa, 2007, 12.5%, $13). When it was first sipped it had a nearly overpowering and unpleasant smell of asparagus. After it had been open a while it had a sooty taste, and with the fish (by now it had been open about an hour) it mellowed out and was very enjoyable. It won the 'most improved' award.
Next on the list was a Fume Blanc (Green yarn) which fooled all of us because the taste of oak made us think (incorrectly) this was a Chardonnay. This bottle (Ferrari-Carano, Sonoma, 2007, 13.9%, $18) featured a Sauvignon Blanc grape which had been fermented in French oak. It was full bodied and I really enjoyed it with the swordfish.
When we got to tasting the Gewurztraminer (Fetzer, 2007, 12%, $11) we noted that the sweet taste offset the spice of a peppery sheep cheese. Other than that, we all found the Gewurztraminer to be too sweet and generally not to our liking (I have had Gewurztraminer wines that were not so sweet and syrupy, but this wasn't one of them.)
The next wine (yellow yarn) was a Chardonnay (Clos La Chance, Monterey County, Ca., 2006, 13.5%, $13.50). This one boasts that it is entirely unoaked – I thought it was a Sauvignon Blanc! It was very nice with the swordfish, not assertive, enjoyable.
It is difficult to keep tastes and flavor profiles straight when there are many wines before you – we were pouring no more than 2 oz of each and trying to describe each of them. But, it gets hard. The following wine was a Viognier (Laurent Miquel, France 2007, 13.5%, $17). It turned out that some of us had never tasted a Viognier. This wine became popular in the US about a decade ago, at least that's when I became aware of it, and is a complex, hearty wine. I like it and recognized it at first, but others didn't universally share my enthusiasm. One comment was that it had a very floral nose, which this person found off-putting. But, I liked it and thought it was a great complement to the grilled swordfish.
So, we were finishing dinner, the wines had been unmasked, and someone said “what about the Muscadet?” What Muscadet, I thought, and learned that a bottle had been brought and wrapped but not served. OK, more work to be done, so we found the missing bottle and poured. It was a delightful wine (Lasablette, France, 2007, 12%, $17) and was wonderful with the fish. The people who brought the Muscadet recalled a year their family had spent in France, and realized that for them at that time white wine meant Muscadet. It was complex, well structured, and tasted very good either with the meal or on its own.
In general, we disliked the sweet Gewurztraminer, and found all the other wines to be good with the swordfish. The most assertive wines were the Viognier and the Fume Blanc, with the taste of oak adding more structure. The most improved was the South African Sauvignon Blanc, and really, all these wines (except the Gewurztraminer) would be very good as the only wine on the table.
For my tastes, with a grilled swordfish, I would order the Fume Blanc, Muscadet, Viognier, or maybe a Gavi which we didn't taste here. But those are my preferences.
So I guess it's true – White wines do go with fish!