Sunday, February 13, 2011

Percée du Vin Jaune- ‘Un jeune homme’ in Jura

Aboard a special 08h53 train in the morning to Arbois with 99.87% of the populace around me comprising French or at least French speakers, I was headed to the place where Louis Pasteur once lived. Yes, the same Louis Pasteur to whom every microbiologist and people in the processed food and beverage industry owe at least a thank you. Or let’s put it this way, if it was not for preventing the wine from souring, the term ‘pasteurisation’ wouldn’t have been coined. But why would I spend a Sunday morning on a train when I could be happily sleeping in my bed just like I always do?
It was the commune of Arbois in the Franche-Comté region that hosted the Percée du Vin Jaune festival this year. An annual event, the festival is a good opportunity for tasting the otherwise not so widely available Savignin grape based wine. So how could I have missed it!
The picturesque town of Arbois and the Cuisance River passing through it
Photo Courtesy: Mr. Saleh
Avoiding a stampede and collecting our tasting glasses we started our sojourn with fresh Comté purchased immediately upon entering. So why make all the efforts to try a jaune wine?Anything other than ordinary? Well, Yes. Bottled 6 years and 3 months post the harvest (which is usually carried out late), it is a wine that develops its ‘jaune’ (French for yellow) characteristic due to long ageing in barrels and exposure to slight oxidation gives it the peculiar or unique nose and taste. Perhaps unique for those who are patrons. With slight resemblance both in appearance and nose to a Sherry, the wine’s appreciation, as just mentioned earlier, could somewhat be an acquired taste. The Comté cheese happily lends its qualities to make for a great food match though only the cheese wouldn't be enough as a meal! 
The barrel being taken for the ceremonial tapping

With upto 10 sample tastings for Vin jaune and Macvin  to Cremant du Jura and wines from the local grapes like Trousseau and Poulsard to Vin de paille, I was a happy wine enthusiast by the day’s end with a few producers winning my vote of confidence-Domaine de Savagny for their good value Cremant, Badoz Benoit for their Vin de paille and Caveau des Byards for the red wine Rubis, a blend of the 3 local red grapes. And as with all the major wine events these days, the piece of news that made this fete unforgettable was the 57000 Euros that a group of wine lovers spent for a 1774 bottle! With the offload of such a hefty amount, one might wonder if it was the hedonism or speculation (even though one of the group members says it is for drinking) governing the decision. Whatever it was, the tasting glass around my neck with hues of red in the inner layer suggested that I had a good time and I shall remember this day for a long time to come. If not, my souvenirs which are nicely placed on the shelf will keep reminding me to go back next year!

Friday, February 4, 2011

I am OK. You are OK.

The dinner table is nicely set, lights are appropriately dim and the music in the background just couldn’t be any better. While all the guests sit down to celebrate his wedding anniversary, the host calls for vintage Champagne. A toast is raised and the evening promises to be full of culinary and drinking delight. As the conversations across the table get noisier and wine begins to flow like water, a handsome man in his late 20’s remarks how the wine in his glass is delightfully sweet with hint of leather and red berry notes. With this mention, the restaurant goes silent like a graveyard and looks from the fellow guests seem sharper than a surgeon’s knife. The young man talks loudly to himself thinking what he is guilty of? A sudden flash and he is back into the real world; a learned gentleman in his late 40s intervening and assertively correcting the guy- this is not sweet, it is the fruits that you perceive which make you talk like that! A moment of embarrassment for the young man but that fills up the ‘know it all’ monsieur’s chest with pride.

So who’s the culprit here? I guess nobody. It is simply the lack of empathy for the innocent chap who couldn’t articulate his passion in the manner as accepted within the wine brethren. In this world of wine connoisseurs, snobbery is often synonymous with knowledge which is an abnormal behaviour from a truly knowledgeable being. And with such experiences, the poor guy will only repeat in his near future what was inflicted upon him. It is here that we can benefit from what Eric Berne called the ‘Transactional Analysis’.In the incident above, it is simply an interaction of the ‘critical parent’ ego state of the experienced wine drinker with the ‘submissive child’ state of the young man. Appearing difficult in the first reading, a little in-depth analysis of the approach points out how at different times owing to one’s personality, a person’s variations in his emotions, actions and feelings affects/is affected by the way he deals with the world around him. The approach is easier understood than followed in real-life situations. If cautiously adopted, conflict, which in this case concerns wine drinking would be easier to resolve. In a field where knowledge levels vary tremendously and so do one’s preferences and choices, the concept becomes all the more relevant.

So while appreciating wine, is there a right way or wrong? The answer to a larger extent is No (again, my personal opinion).  Many of us are still in the ‘education’ stage or evolving into experienced tasters by trying those lovely bottles that exist out there. In many places including my own country, some people are still unsure if wine is an alcoholic beverage! “I could have drunk wine but it doesn’t give me the desired ‘kick’!” remarked an acquaintance. Even worse, as I vividly remember at one of the wine fairs back home, a cameraman greedily gulped down about 3 glasses of wines without breathing for a few seconds! To make matters more complicated (and instead of helping), we have some self-proclaimed ‘wine experts’ preaching what is good and bad in a wine. With the exception of a few professionals and educators already operating in this crazy world, people are making things unnecessarily complicated. If wine is a subject matter of individual perception, then why don’t we provide for some room for the poor consumer’s personal choice? Why can’t he/she decide what is good or bad? Basic sensory skills exist in all. And with more exposure (in this case tastings) and intervention through specialised inputs at certain steps from professionals, we can have a much more developed palate.  Coming back to India, if the government decides to be a little empathic to the cause by waiving off some of those crazy taxes and duties, there’s nothing stopping us Indians from becoming wine or even fine wine connoisseurs. Don’t we already see how those big vintners are queuing up at our ports waiting to share their prized possessions that are lying restlessly in those custom containers than cluttering up our retail shelves! It is harvest time (at least in the Southern hemisphere), so let us get out and pick our favourite grapes. Let’s resolve to shed the ‘know it all’ sheath that some of us have protected ourselves with and experience some lovely change!