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The Day I Faced Down a Swordfish, Chablis in Hand

          It’s important to face your fears. Well, a bottle of 2012 Maison Simonnet-Febvre Chablis helped me do that.

          My mother was a fabulous cook, a natural, like our younger daughter, Zoë. Okay, Zoë grew up glued to the Food Network. I was, on the other hand, easily intimidated in the kitchen for many years. I loved to eat, but had no interest in cooking when I was younger.

         When my mother cooked, instead of watching her as my sisters did from time to time, I sat in the dining room, off the kitchen, reading. Or I could be found walking through the woods nearby with our mutt, Rusty. When I met John in 1973, he had a cookbook and prepared dishes I had never heard of, like Lobster Newburg. He had baked his first cake when he was seven.

         As we ate out, I encountered dishes that left me in awe: the orange soufflé at the long-gone Ernie’s in San Francisco; foie gras at a little place in Châteauneuf-du-Pape; pasta in squid ink in Venice. I was afraid to try to replicate them for two reasons: first, they were delicious, and, second, I believed they could not be better than that particular chef’s version.

         One day, John fell hard for swordfish. I didn’t like the morsels that he lovingly shared at restaurants. It seemed utterly without character. I didn’t get it. Then one evening about three years ago, with our daughters at Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua, N.Y., John ordered the olive-oil poached swordfish and I had my ah-ha moment. Instead of a texture like cardboard, it was silky. Still, I wasn’t ready to try it until he said, casually, after I’d returned from Citarella with shad and shad roe, “You know, one day, you should get swordfish.”

         A few weeks later, I found the impetus in a mixed case he ordered that included the Simonnet-Febvre Chablis. Maison Simonnet-Febvre was founded in 1840 by a barrel maker named Jean Febvre from the Cote d’ Or, a region of Burgundy that is home to some of the world’s most exquisite reds and whites. As the Febvres prospered, they purchased land in several select areas of Chablis, the northernmost region in Burgundy, near Champagne, where Chardonnay reigns. The Febvres’ Chardonnay vineyards made wines in the four classified levels of Chablis, in ascending order for quality and price: Petit Chablis, “regular” Chablis,  Chablis Premier Cru, and the priciest, Chablis Grand Cru. In 2003, Maison Louis Latour, a 200-year-old négociant and wine-growing company, bought Simonnet-Febvre, renovated its plant and hired a new, young winemaker, Jean-Philippe Archambaud.

         The regular Chablis we had was fermented and aged in stainless steel on its lees, which left it with bright enough lemony acidity to handle the velvety-textured fish—yes!-- and a rich, floral and mineral finish to stand up to it.

         What, me afraid? I’ll be making that again. 

Dorothy J. Gaiter conceived and wrote The Wall Street Journal's wine column, "Tastings," from 1998 to 2010 with her husband, John Brecher. She has been tasting and studying wine since 1973. She has had a distinguished career in journalism as a reporter, editor, columnist, and editorial writer at The Miami Herald and The New York Times, as well as at The Journal. 

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