An­drew Jef­ford

‘I came home with the mem­ory of that de­li­cious Ch­ablis ten­sion’

Decanter - - CONTENT -

The hills roll in from ev­ery di­rec­tion, like waves in a mid-At­lantic swell, break­ing greenly down into lit­tle val­leys where mo­men­tary streams come and go with the sea­sons. some of the hill­tops sport for­est, but vines seem more of­ten to cap the sum­mits, even where the bare lime­stone breaks out in a stony white froth. The lit­tle town of Ch­ablis squats in the mid­dle of all, its cit­i­zens qui­etly go­ing about their wine­mak­ing busi­ness, dab­bling trout out of the river, wa­ter­ing gera­ni­ums. The big roads are miles away; the cities fur­ther. This may be France’s most peace­ful vine­yard land­scape.

Then... you take a sip of the lat­est vin­tage’s Petit Ch­ablis. it seems to leap like a trout in the mouth, scat­ter­ing sil­vered acid­ity in a fish-scale cas­cade. For all that, it is not an ‘ar­tic­u­late’ wine. it’s taut, pun­gent and vi­nous, but even the most lo­g­or­rhoea-prone wine writer would strug­gle to lav­ish it with an al­lu­sion-laden para­graph. i was in Ch­ablis re­cently, and i came home with the mem­ory of that de­li­cious ten­sion in the mouth, that terse­ness, that bare­ness: the per­fect sum­mary of high-lat­i­tude, cloud-cov­ered wine cre­ation. sappy wine from a green place.

As it hap­pened, the first bot­tle that i pulled from the fridge on my re­turn was a job­bing south African Chenin Blanc. it was well made, and had just as much acid­ity – but where had the ten­sion gone? What the Chenin had in its place was a hard­ness: every­thing bolted in place, but with no dis­solved en­ergy in the wine to cre­ate that pulling or restor­ing force which mines saliva, and which sends wine hurtling to­wards the stom­ach be­fore you even re­alise you are swal­low­ing.

‘Ten­sion’ and ‘en­ergy’ are mod­ish words to use about wine, as are ‘pre­ci­sion’ and ‘fo­cus’. Af­ter a pur­ple patch in which op­u­lence and ripeness have been the cock qual­i­ties, we’re now chas­ing a dif­fer­ent bird. Well-crafted Petit Ch­ablis from the lat­est vin­tage cer­tainly has these qual­i­ties, but what else could hope to qual­ify, and where do such wines come from?

of one thing i’m sure: ten­sion isn’t, as so of­ten sim­plis­ti­cally as­sumed, re­lated to prom­i­nent acid­ity or mod­est al­co­hol lev­els in a wine. Yes, Petit Ch­ablis has both of these – be­cause of its cool, high-lat­i­tude ori­gins. The Viog­nier har­vested for an out­stand­ing Con­drieu, by con­trast, will have nei­ther prom­i­nent acid­ity nor mod­est al­co­hol lev­els, yet it may still have ten­sion, en­ergy, pre­ci­sion and fo­cus (TePF). The same thing ap­plies to any sin­gle-site Pinot Gris or Gewurz­traminer that has been crafted by olivier hum­brecht MW or Jean Boxler.

What is the pulling or restor­ing force in these wines? it can lie in what­ever con­sti­tutes flavour within them, and of course ‘flavour’ im­plies an aro­matic pres­ence, too. it is not the con­stituents of flavour in them­selves which mat­ter, but rather the na­ture and re­la­tion­ships of the lat­tice which links those con­stituents in a fin­ished wine.

We have, i think, to be tough-minded enough to ad­mit that these high aes­thetic qual­i­ties will not be within the grasp of ev­ery wine­mak­ing site. They con­sti­tute, rather, a part of the po­ten­tial of any distin­guished site. Any wine cre­ator can go run­ning af­ter op­u­lence and ripeness, but TePF is a prop­erty of wine cre­ation prac­tised in a par­tic­u­lar place. You then need an ap­pro­pri­ate va­ri­ety or va­ri­etal blend, a sea­son with­out dis­abling chal­lenges, and the chance or wis­dom to pick at op­ti­mal ripeness. Un­af­fected wine­mak­ing is es­sen­tial, too, in or­der to ren­der wine from fruit as limpidly as pos­si­ble. it would be fool­ish, though, to in­sist on any­thing more spe­cific than that. oak or no oak, whole bunch or destemmed, ex­trac­tion or mere in­fu­sion: it all de­pends.

The TePF ideal con­sti­tutes a set of worth­while, durable aes­thetic goals in wine cre­ation, and to­day’s crit­ics are right to laud them. Be­ware, though, that they don’t go the way of ‘min­er­al­ity’, and end up be­ing as­cribed in the slop­pi­est man­ner to any wine about which one might har­bour pos­i­tive feel­ings. Mean­ing mat­ters. An­drew Jef­ford is a De­can­ter con­tribut­ing edi­tor and the Louis Roed­erer In­ter­na­tional Colum­nist of 2016 for this and his ‘Jef­ford on Mon­day’ col­umn at De­can­ter.com/jef­ford

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