Consider the Pomelo

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.

柚子二三事 

臺灣的柚子季已經結束好一陣子了,從沒吃過柚子的人,也許一點也不在乎柚子的時節;就算吃過,可能也無法理解我為什麼要因為這外觀不雅的水果過了季,而感到淡淡地憂傷。雖然與葡萄柚同為一家,柚子卻缺乏前者的活力,更少了喚醒味蕾的鮮明酸味。不過,對我而言,一顆好的柚子與一顆葡萄柚,就像是一款頂級貝沙克(Pessac)白酒和馬爾堡(Marlborough)白蘇維濃(Sauvignon Blanc)一般:兩者都有其優秀之處,但我就是偏愛波爾多的微光,勝過於紐西蘭令人炫目的閃耀光芒。

在我看來,柚子還總是讓我聯想起古老的格言,提醒人們不要只看膚淺的表面。我最喜歡的柚子,來自於臺灣西南部的雲林縣。它們超市裡常用像吊床一般的網子罩住,並貼上閃亮亮的金色貼紙,以標示其出處。但這些包裝卻遮不住水果本身鬆垮的黃色外皮,以及有如棕色老人斑似的斑點,和滿是坑洞的果皮。對於從小習慣看到新鮮漂亮水果的西方人而言,這樣外貌乾癟的水果,彷彿像是裝在傳統稻草瓶身的奇揚替(Chianti)紅酒一般,生錯了時代。

為什麼柚子沒能像葡萄柚一樣,成功進軍全球市場呢?我自己也不清楚;也許和許多義大利葡萄品種一樣,它們適應力較差,離開了亞熱帶家鄉後,便難以在異地表現出原本可口的多元面向,更無法展現出細緻與滿載柑橘調性的風格。不過,即便能在國外成功種出柚子,我也懷疑西方消費者是否有耐心剝完整顆水果。在我們一家三口之中,只有我願意花上十五分鐘,慢慢地將一層又一層柚子皮由外至內剝乾淨(只不過,我可不是唯一一位願意吃柚子的人)。

但是,柚子與葡萄酒何干?其實也許沒有太大的關聯。只能說,我欣賞柚子和葡萄酒的態度是一樣的。面對那些想強迫我愛上、或是才品嚐第一口就洩漏了全部內容的葡萄酒,我多半只感到興趣缺缺。我向來偏愛較為沈默寡言與內斂的葡萄酒;願意花上十五分鐘慢慢剝開柚子皮的我,自然也很樂意等待杯中酒緩慢開展,逐漸顯露自己的美好。

前一陣子,我參加了一場納帕谷(Napa Valley)頂級紅酒的新年份上市午宴,再一次對於這種理應具有「代表性」的酒款感到失望。這款酒滿是鈔票味:法國橡木桶所帶來的香草與異國辛香料味,結合了豐美成熟的歐洲酸櫻桃、藍莓、石墨和碎岩等調性;這令人暈眩的組合常讓我血清素飆高。但是,我有什麼好不愛這款酒的呢?大概是因為,在這大膽、香氣十足的外表,與濃郁華麗的風格之下蘊藏的,正好是和長相平凡的柚子完全相反的內在。這款以極為成熟的葡萄釀成的酒,儼然已經被自己的重量所拖累,而其驚人的酒精度甚至令人聯想到藥酒,讓它宛如像是睡前喝的小杯酒,而不是與心愛的人互訴共享的美釀。我無法理解為什麼要繼續支持這種可怖的龐然大物;也許,我們心中總是難以忽視這種「閃亮亮」的葡萄酒吧!

不過,我寧願捨棄這種態度高傲的酒款,而選擇一款能牽著我的手,並帶我走向有點熟悉的路、卻又能在其中找到新樂趣的酒款。

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。

冬天已悄然到來,我卻還沒找到能在我心中取代柚子這般份量的水果;當季的高山蘋果聽起來雖然不錯,但充其量只是蘋果而已。所幸,不同於水果,我總是有新的葡萄酒可以品嚐。今晚陪伴我的是來自Jacky Blot酒莊、數款架構優良的布戈憶(Bourgueil)美釀;這些酒款之新鮮,讓我確信,品嚐了它們,我也會因此變年輕。

可能是我期待太高…… 剛看了一眼浴室鏡子中的自己,發現什麼也沒改變。我依舊是顆柚子,而沒能變成彼得潘。(編譯/艾蜜・emily)