At least one of these bottles undeniably deserved a better fate than it was dealt. Indeed, I would under different circumstances than the 11 ½th hour of the New Year’s Eve probably choose not to sabre a bottle of crémant du Jura, because it is typically a wine with enough charm and complexity to merit saving / savouring any and all drops. Mind you, it is not a particularly expensive wine, but on its merits it can stand up to many a Champagne several income brackets above it, and certainly any of its peers. At a Christmas party not long ago a friend commented that he has never been much interested in sparkling wines, and views them as little more than a toasting prop. The usual response to this sort of sentiment is “Ah, but you have probably never had a truly good Champagne!”, which is both probably true and equally probably irrelevant, because there is really no predicting what kind of wine, at what price point or level of quality, in what circumstances, will speak to someone intimately enough to catch their ear and confound their prejudices, honestly acquired or otherwise. Also it makes you sound like an ass.
For my own part, I have probably tasted a good champagne, never a great one, but the comment made me realize how thoroughly turned-around on the topic I have become in a relatively short time. I had a place in my heart already for sparkling wines, but tended to favour cavas (Spanish sparkling wines made using a method similar to that of Champagne), because at the lower end of the price range, they tend to deliver the driest, cleanest, most satisfying and vigorously sparkling product. Such wines are ideal party wines, and the image they evoke of lusty and quarrelsome Catalan fishermen only adds to their appeal. Somewhere along the line, however, this changed, and sparkling wines went from a fun diversion or handy refresher while I decided what I really wanted to drink at a restaurant, to being a wine of avid interest for me. It happens, somewhat uncharacteristically, that I actually recall what was responsible for this change, and it was in fact a crémant du Jura. Crémant simply refers to a sparkling wine of a particular quality from a given region in France (crémant de Loire, crémant de Bourgogne, crémant de Die, etc.), Jura is a region in the east of France, sandwiched between Burgundy and the Swiss border, just a little north of where Geneva juts, Lance of Longinus-style, into France’s side. It is a relatively small wine-producing region, one of the oldest in France, and for weirdos one of the most exciting, because it produces truly singular expressions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and downright weird, wonderful shit with its main indigenous varieties, Poulsard, Trousseau, and Savagnin. But another thing they do is crémant du Jura, made (as far as I know) in the méthode traditionnelle of Champagne. So it figures that this was my point of entry; however strait the gate, I inevitably find for myself the side way.
And this crémant I had smelled like bread. Like, more like bread than anything that is not itself freshly-baked bread – or more specifically, unbaked bread just punched-down from a first rise – could ever be expected to smell. Astonishingly, intoxicatingly so. Bone-dry in the mouth, but with a lingering baked apple effect, although some of that apple quality I must admit may be as much an interpretive overlay as a genuine memory. Having since tasted four or five other wines from the producer – Michel Gahier – I have been struck by how fresh and vital is the expression of fruit in his wines. In discussing it with a friend who has roughly a lifetime more wine-drinking experience over me, he remarked that this, what he called the “bell-like clarity of the fruit”, is for him the hallmark of Gahier’s wines. Filtered thus through my subsequent experiences with the wines and the articulation of this theme, I cannot help but hear, when conjuring the memory of Gahier’s crémant, that bell pealing somewhere off in the distance. So sue me. The tension of memory, ephemerality, and the flesh is what wine is about (NB: also getting drunk).
So that was the first sparkling wine that truly got me. After which two things could have happened, and I am happy that it was the latter that did: I could have spent the rest of my days seeking out a reiteration of that experience, trying to recapture the taste of that wine in that moment, and perpetually dissatisfied because nothing quite satisfied, or I could have used the opening created by that experience as a space for the evaluation and appreciation of other things that had heretofore escaped my attention. You know, like wines. Like liking wines. I could use it to like more wines, more. And I have. It has turned sparkling wines into a matter of interest for me, sure, a great number of those I encounter are serviceable and uninspired/uninspiring, but some have really kicked my ass. Most recently, a crew of us got together to take advantage of the holiday swell in available sparkling wines at the SAQ to do a side-by-side tasting. There are currently five crémants du Jura available through the SAQ (none of them the Gahier, alas) and all cost less than $26. I won’t go into full detail on all five, suffice to say that the Baud Brut Sauvage was the driest and yeastiest, and perhaps my favourite, if not that of the group. The Baud Blanc de Blancs and the Rolet were unremarkable, and both the Domaine Labet and the André & Mireille Tissot were excellent. This last was (I believe) the only that I had tasted prior, and was for me the most exciting. Indeed, I was shocked by how complex it was, given that it had made only a favourable if not particularly memorable impression on me the first time. Now it opened with a bready quality, but far more restrained than either the Baud or Gahier. Like baguette or something with a sheer crust, not freshly-baked but cooled and not overwhelmingly fragrant, and along with it bruised apples and poppers, with a long, tonic (like tonic water and like anything healing for the brain), dry finish that betrayed none of the just-oxidizing apple sugar on the nose. It occurs to me only now that the former tasting was not only the wine of a different year, but also occurred before the Gahier-mediated sensitization of the Spring that had as it were opened up this space for the tasting of sparkling wines.
So it is sort of a shame that the other one got exploded, but it is simply a matter of fact that as the hammer of revelry falls, one sabres what one has on hand.