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Exploring the diversity of the wine world
WOULD you use Château Petrus as your house wine? (Assuming that you can afford it, of course!) Yes, as in that Château Petrus, Pomerol.
A long time ago I was at a dinner where this actually happened. Needless to say as a guest I was only too happy and it was a very enjoyable evening. But it also made me ponder. I would venture that anything, even such a fine wine, that's used as part of one's daily meal would pall. Life is not like that. Life is about diversity, and within diversity we find unity (which also describes the essence of Singapore, for that matter).
The point is that there is a whole world of wine out there, one which is an unending delight to explore. Last week's column was about an evening with wines at the top of the pyramid. It does not mean that wines at the opposite end are not as enjoyable, not as interesting. I am blessed with an inquisitive mind and so after delving into the wines of Bordeaux, it was Burgundy, then Rhone and so on to the New World.
More often than not, we, the average wine consumer, start our journey with Bordeaux - Claret - for simple reasons: first, they are the easiest to find locally, the most ready at hand; second, and perhaps the most subconsciously persuasive, is the fact that the Bordeaux Classification (into First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth Classified Growths, and after that the Crus Bourgeoises and simple appellation wine) is not difficult to understand, making it easier to identify the best wines.
It is human to be impressed, even mesmerised, by "big" names, e.g. Louis Vuitton, Rolex, etc. The higher the price tag, the more coveted the object. Ditto with wine. However, it is always productive (and instructive) to take the trouble and time to look at the other end of the scale - at the Village level, the Crus Bourgeois, the non-classified wines. We should trust our own palates.
When exploring outside of our comfort zone, a safe course to pursue is to place your bets on the name/s of the producer/s. This will need preliminary reading and knowledge, which is easy to come by. There are several reliably authoritative books and wine magazines to refer to.
The human mind likes simplification. We all understand the scale of First, Second, etc. It is what we strived to achieve in our school examinations. (Hence the impact of the 100-point score first introduced by Wine Advocate more than 30 years ago.) Scores or ratings by known expert palates are useful guides, especially when unfamiliar wines are encountered.
There are also the recommendations from friends who are more experienced and more knowledgeable.
But best of all, travel. Go where the wine is made. This was advice given to me very early in my journey. Visit wine country, meet the wine growers on their own turf, talk, question, listen, eat where they eat, learn and experience their environment, and above all, taste, from the bottle, from the barrels.
All wine growers (with very, very few exceptions) are hospitable and will readily welcome wine-lovers, even ordinary wine tourists. They will take the time to explain, to describe their wines, their terroirs. But always seek an appointment to visit rather than turn up unannounced, which is rank discourtesy. Get someone knowledgeable with the particular wineries to introduce you and to ask for an appointment to visit for you.
Last but not least, exploring your own collection can be very interesting, especially when it spans decades. It turns up long-forgotten acquisitions, happily!
Hermitage Blanc 1998, Domaine J L Chave
Brilliant golden-yellow, surprisingly youthful hue. Very appealing bouquet, reminding one of peaches and lightly citrusy fruits; very fresh. Good medium weight on the palate, medium density, good concentration of ripe fruit, taste again reminding of freshly ripened peaches; good length.
A very agreeable companion to our sashimi first course. It took the wasabi in its stride.
This wine was a very pleasant surprise, refreshing and appealing. Reminded one, in a way, of a Bienvenue-Batard Montrachet, Leflaive, only a little, just a touch sweeter.
At 18 years old, it is still at its freshest peak. Will hold for a good few years more at this level.
Gerard and Jean-Louis Chave, Mauves, Rhone Valley
One of the greatest wine estates of not only Rhone but all of France, it has been family- owned since 1481. "Vignerons de Pere et Fils depuis 1481" is inscribed on the neck label - 535 years old!
Chave was among the very first Rhone wine producers I made a point to visit when I began to explore the Rhone Valley. The winery in Mauves fronts the main road south from Tain l'Hermitage, its main (entrance) door bearing the simple name-plate "Gerard Chave".
Gerard's friendly welcome right from the very first visit put us at ease quickly.
In the cellar his enthusiasm is very evident as he patiently explains the differences in taste between the different terroirs, making each visit a veritable lesson on Northern Rhone wines.
He would conduct our tastings through all the different climats of his wine, as each climat (a specific vineyard site) was vinified separately. It was such a joy to visit him, each visit a very instructive and happy lesson. You emerge refreshed, re-energised and inspired. His son Jean-Louis now works with him, and he too is equally enthusiastic in welcoming us.
Vignerons like Gerard Chave enrich one's life, and there are many more like him throughout all the major wine regions of Europe and the New World - unfailing in the warmth of their welcome, always so pleased that you have chosen to visit them from so far away. It is this warm spirit one senses in his welcome which is indelibly imprinted on my mind. It was there right from the beginning when we were total strangers, introduced by Gerard Jaboulet, of the family wine firm of Paul Jaboulet Aine, in Tain Hermitage, just up the road in Northern Rhone from Mauves. It is there in all the Châteaux, Domaines, Tenutas, and Maisons we have visited in a lifetime of wine travel.
And that is what wine is all about - people.