Bring on the Lo Mein, but Hold the Corkscrew


Carry-out Chinese food has been one way to get through the worst heat spells this summer. That begs the question of what to drink with it.

Some prefer beer, while others complain that it’s too heavy. Chardonnay, America’s favorite white wine, often lacks the verve to cut through the spices and aromatics of this cuisine. One good mate for the food is

New Zealand sauvignon blanc. These wines have always been great with seafood, and their bracing citric acidity is also a perfect match for Chinese or Thai fare.

Perhaps because New Zealand doesn’t have a grand winemaking tradition, winemakers are willing to think outside the box. They are leading the charge to top bottles with screw caps to eliminate those ruined by bad corks (this is up to 5 percent of all bottles opened). Proponents believe that wines bottled under screw caps taste fresher than those bottled with corks. And while the jury is still out on how wine sealed with screw caps will age and develop over the years, it’s a technique that makes perfect sense for New Zealand sauvignon blancs. These bottles are meant to be drunk within a year or two of the vintage.

Wines with screw caps are a hard sell in this country; some associate that closure with low-end swill. If any wine can change that image, it will be New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc. And with screw caps, you can easily save an unfinished bottle to accompany the white cartons that wind up in the fridge.

SIDEBAR:Island hopping

While Marlborough, on New Zealand’s north tip of the South Island, is known for sauvignon blanc, it did not produce the country’s first sauvignon blanc. That honor goes to Matua Valley near Auckland on the North Island; the year was

1974. Matua currently produces sauvignon blanc made from grapes grown in Marlborough as well. Matua 2004 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (above, about $11) is a great buy.

Also on the North Island, in Martinborough literally a stone’s throw across the strait from Marlborough is the home of the captivating Palliser Estate 2004 Sauvignon Blanc , which has an extra dimension of minerality (about $19).

A winery located in Central Otago, a tiny area in the southern part of the South Island, is best known for its pinot noir, but Mt. Difficulty

2004 sauvignon blanc (about $17) is dynamite. It’s not difficult at all to enjoy its intertwined citric and mineral flavors.

Matua Valley is distributed by Ruby Wines, 508-588-7007; Palliser Estate and Mt. Difficulty by M.S. Walker, 800-238-0607.

August 17, 2005.