Must-Have Wine: Mahi Sauvignon Blanc 2011
To answer a question from a reader the other day, “Why don’t you score wines?” The answer is I simply believe scoring wine or ratings methods are completely flawed.
Does this diminish my effectiveness or relevance as wine writer? I don’t think so, or least I hope not!
If one considers two of the leading wine authorities and writers in the world I respect most, Andrew Jefford and Matt Kramer, do not score wine, or least publish such in their articles and reviews.
Jefford is the most engaging wine communicator I have come across and his incredibly evocative and captivating, inspiring thirst with words, not numbers. Kramer is the most intellectually stimulating, if not provocateur wine commentator and clairvoyant palate on the planet, ironically a longstanding columnist for the biggest score whore publication in the world, but he does not score or rate wines.
I don’t want to labor this but would like to say; to me wine becomes singularly boring if confined to a number, disenfranchising us from the multitude of emotions and auxiliary enjoyment factors and constraining our preferences; or is it that this number is an assurance or safeguard, like some sort of wine condom.
My approach to wine is I believe, much the same as most of us who actually drink the stuff and that is to be largely influenced by the mood or the food and level of thirst. Instinctively I consult my onboard computer first, listening to my emotions and as I am habitually obsessed with food it is normally the dictator of what wine I would like to drink.
There might well be other mitigating factors like whom will I be sharing this bottle, that’s if I’m not drinking alone, and the surrounds or occasion, i.e. are we eating out at a restaurant, cooking at home or perhaps at friends for dinner.
Point in case; a few days ago I had a craving for Thai beef salad, our own home-cooked version and not the pathetic restaurant offerings invariably with slices of raw onion and unripe tomato, and miserable pieces of chewy poor cuts, all camouflaged by searing hot chilli.
Looking through the wine fridge I was already receiving messages from my parietal lobe and the olfactory radar was now searching for a suitable racy, tangy invigorating crisp dry white – and there it was – 2011 Mahi Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough.
Yes, beef salad with sauvignon blanc - I know you are thinking this does not compute, but I can assure you it is the perfect food and wine pairing. And to put you in the right frame of mind, and cooking mood, here is the recipe first.
You need to use a good cut of beef, I prefer sirloin or rib eye off the bone, even better if you can track down some Australian Wagyu rump, it has much less fat than Kobe Beef and the rump is only minimally marbled.
Some pre-planning is required as you need to purchase your beef a day in advance, to marinate overnight in Thai fish sauce. Using a studded meat mallet, pound each side of the beef so it is perforated, then rub in the Thai Fish sauce liberally then wrap in cling film.
The salad ingredients are not fixed so be as creative as you like, or pragmatic if you can’t lay your hands on some of these items:
Japanese cucumber – sliced thinly
Large bunch of garden mint
Vietnamese mint tía tô (which you can substitute with Japanese Green shiso perilla, research at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perilla)
Laksa Leaf (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persicaria_odorata)
Mesclun salad or Tuscan mix
Limes – enough to squeeze about half a cup of juice
Couple of large shallots – sliced thinly
Malaysian Sambal – available at most Chinese food suppliers, research or even experiment with other Sambal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambal#Malaysian_sambal)
Thai Fish Sauce
Wash and prepare all your leaves and have everything ready, juice squeezed etc as it all comes together very quickly.
Now sear your beef making sure the pan is really hot as you want to make sure it is browned nicely on the outside but fairly rare on the inside, as the meat has already marinated/cooked to a large degree in the Thai fish sauce. Of course, if you have a BBQ, all the better and just give them a quick singe each side.
Allow to rest for five minutes but make sure you keep the juices and add to the salad. Then slice the beef into generous portions, say half a centimetre in thickness.
A wok is good for the next stage, but a large pan will do the job just as well. Add a slug of olive oil and cook the sliced shallots until soft. Add two tablespoons of sambal and another slug of olive oil, cooking gently for a minute or so. Turn off the heat and throw in all the meat, tossing it to coat it with the sambal.
Then throw in all your salad leaves and mints, tossing thoroughly and adding lime juice to taste – this is the important part, as you need to add and taste as you go, also giving it a few splashes of Thai fish sauce which is your salt – and this depends on how tangy you want it.
Note there is no chili, other than the sambal paste, so it is not a spicy hot dish at all; rather it is an explosion of mints and nettle-flavours, lifted by the piquancy of freshly squeezed lime juice, mingling with the meat juices and the meat flavour – which is infused with the fish sauce – and the shallots adding a little sweetness with a little spicy warmth from the sambal, all combining to a tantalizing salad and profusion of flavours.
Now, do you see why sauvignon blanc goes brilliantly with this – forgot the beef, it’s all about mints and nettles with spicy, peppery notes from the laksa leaves and refreshing tangy lime flavours – all synergistic with sauvignon blanc.
And the wine, finally, 2011 Mahi Sauvignon Blanc, my note reads: Striking perfume of zesty lime and sliced kiwifruit, expands to wonderfully lifted sherbet- like passion fruit/pomelo/grapefruit/freshly squeezed oranges melange with a background spiciness of laksa leaf, nettle/mints/white pepper/wasabi and an alluring musk/rosewater sweet scent. Vivaciously tang, zingy and racy on the palate entry, really zips along with an impressive etherealness – actually there’s an incredible lightness to the wine yet it has considerable power and builds in weight mid-palate with some textural weight and a surge of saturating passion fruit and juicy Mandarin with a charge of invigorating lemon/lime acidity and penetrating racy, long mouth-watering finish, indeed it has exceptional length.
In one respect it is restrained style of sauvignon blanc, certainly by comparison to that Marlborough cumulus giggle juice, and actually reminds me of the impressive Nigl Sauvignon Blanc, from Krems, Austria – sort of leaning towards the drier, racier European style and yet the Mahi has lost none of its Antipodean/Marlborough juicy, fleshy appeal. Completely dangerous drink really and our bottle disappeared way too quickly.
If and you insist I need to come up with a score, well I’d give it a perfect 100 out 100 for sheer class and drinking pleasure, and a brilliant match to my Thai Beef Salad thanks.
If you dig a little further you will pick up on Mahi being more than your average Marlborough producer, indeed this is an uber-cool winery focused on single-vineyard wines and also making some seriously good pinot noir, to which I am including notes a two I just tasted:
Mahi Pinot Noir 2010 – Marlborough: Smoky, roasted beetroot, dark black cherry, dark orange-cacao chocolate amongst charred timbers, deeply spicy with hint of nettle/herbal nuance that reminds me of Straits cha tea and exuding complexity and lushness in fruit. The palate is indeed plush, perhaps more obvious in its sweetness than the bouquet but there’s a purity to the black cherry fruit and a certain lush silkiness, and yet this is all kept in check by a surge of tangy, tamarind paste-like savoury/sourness and a herbal/pipe tobacco complexity with a warm spicy farewell. Very approachable now although would certainly benefit from three or four years in bottle.
Mahi Pinot Noir ‘Rive’ 2008 Single Vineyard – Marlborough: Deep black berry fruits amongst a pronounced minerality – cold iron sand beach – very savoury, earthy nuances and my thoughts wander towards Beaune in Burgundy with its sauvage of minerality and underlying steeliness. The nose builds in richness as the wine breaths with compote of black berry fruits and dried fruits (dates, muscatels) with a Maple syrup-like sweetness and spicy nutmeg and cardamom notes. The palate is saturated with black berry fruits and a pronounced black earthiness replicating the bouquet and giving an overall impression of savouriness with some fairly chewy Oolong Tea and herbal-nuanced tannins and a certain mouth-puckering dryness suggesting this is a wine of considerable dry extract, brooding and really needing some more bottle age at this point – nevertheless a very impressive, powerful style of pinot noir that lifts the bar in the Marlborough region.
I am still working my way through some of the Mahi Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs and sure there will be plenty to more write about, as should you explore the full range of their wines and follow this winery closely and continually as they are evolving and the talented and thoroughly passionate proprietor/winemaker Brian Bicknell is perpetually pursuing quality, character and diversity (the other Marlborough), no question Mahi is a class act, including the label, designed by Bicknell’s wife Nic.
Mahi is widely distributed around the planet, particularly in Asia where they are represented by excellent merchants, in Hong Kong Altaya Wines and Singapore Water & Wine – visit the Mahi website for a full list of distributors http://www.mahiwine.co.nz/distribution.html
(Curtis Marsh – The Wandering Palate, our veteran sommelier and independent wine and food writer, has over 30 years experience in hospitality, wine and media.)