During the red wine boom of the ’90s, one shade of white prevailed: Chardonnay. Most often produced in a big, rich, oaky international style, it was the heaviest, “reddest” white wine on the scene.
|Fumitaka Ando, manager of La Catinetta in Shinagawa|
These days, wine fans are rediscovering the full range of whites. When we survey sommeliers and waiters about diners’ current favorites, the buzzword is Sauvignon Blanc. This grape is traditionally known for the crisp, flinty dry whites of France’s Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume regions. In recent years, however, New Zealand’s Marlborough region has made its mark with peppery, citrus-driven Sauvignon Blancs that have set a contemporary standard for the varietal.
Unlike the butter-and-vanilla scent of heavily oaked Chardonnay, classic Sauvignon Blanc has almost startlingly funky aromas of grass, herbs and a musky, ammonia note (irreverently called “cat’s piss” among wine professionals). It is leaner, more zesty and thirst-quenching than most Chardonnays — and its clean, citrus-infused character makes Sauvignon Blanc a perfect summer wine.
It is an even more appealing choice when a tasty, budget-friendly edition is available. Our pick is 2000 Montes Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s Curico Valley (980 yen at Enoteca wine shops around Japan; now on sale for three bottles for 2,499 yen). One of our tasters declared it “the poor man’s Cloudy Bay,” the New Zealand cult wine. The classic combination of flinty, herbaceous and briny aromas makes it a beautiful match for seafood. With flavors of lime, green peppercorns, peach and honey, it offers a succulent balance between acidity and fruit. At this price, it’s hard to beat.
Located at the end of a tiny entrance path between buildings in Shinagawa is a one-of-a-kind discovery for die-hard wine aficionados. Owner Fumitaka Ando likes customers who are willing to track down the discreet spot, and he refuses to print a map. But once you find the door, the hospitality at La Cantinetta is so personal that it feels as if you are in Ando’s home.
In fact, he lives next door, and the place is a part of Ando’s family history. A century ago, his forebears ran a sake shop there, but Ando’s passion was for wine, with a predilection for France’s Rho^ne and Languedoc-Roussillon regions. And so, through carpentry and craftsmanship, he is transforming the space into a cozy refuge for wine lovers. The counter is a slab of 500-year-old Japanese maple from Hokkaido that Ando sanded to the texture of silk. The rosy walls are stucco, embedded with marble chips and hand-finished by Ando with a diamond cutter. Even the hanging paper lanterns are his own creation.
Do not ask for a wine list. This adventure relies on Ando’s choices from his personal wine cellar. Each guest receives the day’s tasting: six deep glasses of wine for 4,000 yen. Ando seeks out wines from regions and small producers that he loves, so expect to be introduced to some great finds. Each day’s selection is archived on his Web site, www.la-cantinetta.com
To accompany the wines, warm breads from Taillevent are served with sweet French butter. A daily menu offers several substantial items from 800 yen to 1,300 yen. Recent fare included a couscous dish, lamb stew, moussaka and various cheeses. Our bill per person (wines and food) totaled around 5,000 yen.