The pomelo season has been over for a while in Taiwan. For those of you who have never eaten one you may be thinking “So what?” and even for those of you that have, many might feel bemused by my mild melancholia at the disappearance of this inelegant fruit’s presence from my fruit bowl. This parent of the grapefruit wants for some of its progeny’s elan. It lacks the eye-widening acidity that helps shift a slumbering palate to full wakefulness but a good pomelo is to a grapefruit what a fine Pessac white is to a Marlborough raised Sauvignon Blanc. Both have their place but I prefer the shimmer of the Bordeaux above the dazzle of the New Zealander.
The pomelo also represents a lesson in respecting those old adages that concern appearance being only skin deep. Some of my favourite pomelos come from Yunlin, a county on the west coast of the island. In the supermarket they sit hammocked in individual nets with a shiny gold sticker declaring their provenance, but these accoutrements fail to hide the truth; these are forlorn looking fruit, yellowed and baggy of skin with brown patches like liver spots decorating their pocked peel. For the western eye, raised on the uniformity of fresh produce, the sight of such wizened looking fruit is as anachronistic as Chianti sold in a straw covered fiasco.
Why has the pomelo not achieved the global presence afforded the grapefruit? I really don’t know but like many an Italian grape variety, perhaps pomelos are less adaptable, less willing to yield their subtle, citric bounty when dragged from their sub-tropical homelands and asked to perform similar feats of deliciousness in alien surroundings. Even if this is the case I suspect that the average western consumer lacks the patience to peel a pomelo. Of the three people that live in my house, I’m the only one willing to dedicate the fifteen minutes required to remove all the segments from their enveloping sacs of pith (although I’m not the only one willing to eat them).
So what has this got to do with wine? Well not a huge amount really apart from that my appreciation of the pomelo mirrors my appreciation of certain styles of the world’s best beverage. I’m not particularly interested in wines that try to bully me into liking them or reveal themselves completely once poured. I prefer a little more reticence and restraint in my grape juice and if I can devote a quarter of an hour to peeling a pomelo, I’m happy to wait a while whilst a wine gets its act together.
Recently I was at the launch of a new vintage of a prestigious Napa Valley red and experienced the same sense of vague disappointment that supposed ‘icon’ wines have engendered in me before. This particular wine reeked of money: vanilla and other exotic spices that spoke of the use of fine French oak, were joined by the richly ripe scent of morello cherries, blueberries, graphite and crushed rock, a heady combination that usually sends my serotonin soaring. So why didn’t I like it? Because behind that bold aromatic exterior and dense cloak of opulence lurked the exact opposite of the prosaic looking pomelo. A wine made with grapes so ripe that it was sagging under the weight of its own fecundity. The prodigious alcohol made this feel more like a curative. Something to be taken in a tumbler before bed rather than an accompaniment to an evening’s chatter with one’s beloved. Why we continue to place such value on these crude behemoths is confusing to me but perhaps the jackdaw in us all finds these ‘shiny’ wines almost impossible to ignore.
No, I want to drink wine that has so much more to offer than simply an over-confident swagger, I want to drink wine that holds my hand, that walks me down a vaguely familiar street whilst directing my gaze at new points of interest. I want to be engaged, but sensitively so.
So what are these wines that wear their charms more lightly? Where do they come from? The answer, truthfully, is everywhere. I am yet to visit a region, never mind a country that doesn’t produce at least a few wines that beguile rather than berate. The key I believe is freshness. Good wines, whatever their age exude it, whilst bad ones, whatever their price, exclude it (and at their peril). Wine, like a good pomelo, enlivens. A wine I tasted last week, Tardieu Laurent’s Hermitage, 2012, has this trait. On first sniff it announced itself gracefully yet with authority. Perfumed and yet also slightly savoury, this had me smiling immediately. In the mouth the initial sensation was one of texture rather than taste. On swallowing there was no burn of excessive alcohol or bitterness from over-extraction, just the further unfurling of flavour. This wine had no need to shout to inform me of its existence it just spoke to me, softly but with clarity. It was alive, it exuded freshness.
As winter approaches I am yet to find something fruity to replace the pomelo sized hole in my life and the current season’s ‘mountain’ apples whilst sounding rather fine, are, well, just apples. On the other hand there is always a new wine to try and tonight I’m being considerately escorted by some rather fine boned Bourgeuil from Jacky Blot; a wine so full of youthful vigour that I’m sure consumption will actually make me look younger.
…Perhaps I expected too much. I’ve just taken a look in the bathroom mirror and unfortunately nothing has changed I’m still more pomelo than Peter Pan.
那麼，是什麼酒能夠這樣輕易地展現出自身的魅力？它們又來自何方？答案是，隨處可見。說真的，我還不曾去過一個沒能產出一、兩款令人心醉好酒的產區，甚至國家。我相信，好酒關鍵就在於新鮮度。無論酒齡為何，只要是好酒，都能展現出新鮮度；而壞的酒──不管要價多麼昂貴，則總是缺乏新鮮度。在我看來，葡萄酒就跟一顆好吃的柚子一樣，具有振奮人心的效果。上週我品嚐的2012年Tardieu Laurent’s Hermitage，便展現了這樣的特質。才初聞，我便覺得這款酒兼具優雅與莊嚴的特性，既芳香又帶了點鹹鮮風味，才聞到我已經禁不住一臉微笑。品嚐時，我最先注意到的是質地，而非滋味。即便是吞下肚，我也不覺得口中有任何高酒精所帶來的燒灼感，或過度萃取的果味，只有更多風味的展現。這不是一款需要大聲宣告其存在價值的酒，而僅是輕柔且清晰地娓娓道來，自己充滿生機的存在。