En Route

jeff-france-1989

Near Les Baux-de-Provence in 1989

In reading through Adventures on the Wine Route, Kermit Lynch’s pitch-perfect 1988 travelogue exploring the byways, vineyards and caves of the French landscape, the urge to reach for a bottle is behind every page. As is the mark of any piece of writing worth a damn, the sense of place is clearly conveyed, leaving a lengthy, satisfying finish in line with, say, a layered Vouvray demi-sec of the Loire.

Numerous passages in Lynch’s work have big appeal, especially those describing his early lessons in tasting and appreciation – a process, he admits, that’s wholly imprecise and personal. “He did not taste with a fixed idea of ‘the perfect wine’ in mind,” he says of an early mentor. “He valued finesse, balance, personality, and originality. If a wine had something to say, he listened. If a wine was a cliché, he had little interest. If it was different, apart from the rest, he appreciated it more.”

In 1989, I myself took to France’s roads on bicycle, but it was less wine that drove my interests than restlessness. Weighed down by overstuffed panniers and possessed by post-teen dreams, I roamed the foreign stretches, from Paris to Cannes and elsewhere. Beer was my naïve and exclusive choice of leisure beverage, and I fueled myself on middling pilsner as I tooled past untold acres of vine with – at best – negligible appreciation. But the sights burned into my synapses and I again tasted the country air as I turned Lynch’s pages.

Southwestern France made a particular impression, especially the area around Dordogne-Périgord with its rolling green landscapes, dramatic river valleys and Paleolithic core (see: Lascaux, caves of). Looking at my notes and photographs from the time, I’m reminded of the many instances I was nearly and actually driven to tears by the beauty.

Of course, my memory of all things France – the scenery, the accent – involuntarily kicks in from time to time, and a wine shop is rich with triggers. Gazing at a stack in my local Premium Store, I felt a stir as a collection of pale gold bottles shone out, with labels sporting a famous prehistoric horse image of Lascaux. Well, salut! But here the story takes a turn. Though the ancient drawing was familiar, the wine’s origins could be traced miles to the southeast of Périgord, in the region of Languedoc.

chateau-de-lascaux-blancSubject of far less fanfare than Bordeaux or Burgundy, Languedoc isn’t as familiar to my palate, yet Lynch’s descriptions of the region’s “heroic” underdog wines, which I’d freshly passed over, had me leaning in. Furthermore, the route was too intriguingly twisted to resist: The horsie from Périgord by way of Languedoc. And, come to find out (quelle surprise!), it was a Kermit Lynch Selection. I had to have it.

Half-comprised of Vermentino grapes, the pale yellow Chateau de Lascaux Blanc 2013 ($17.99) is balanced by Roussanne (20%), Marsanne (20%) and Viognier. Its medium body carries a lovely viscous mouth feel as well as a solid notion of stink and sea. Bracing and clean with ample limestone at the bottom, there’s a wonderful early insistence of juicy tropical fruit that in turn defers to the wine’s saline minerality. With decanting, and especially on the second day, it settles more into itself, broadens and takes on pear flavors. I also found the air to draw out more intensity on the finish and some low heat (note the 13.5% alcohol content).

Alternately rich and sharp, the Lascaux Blanc adds up as a refreshing and sure-handed wine that, for me, conjured a flashback to roads traveled. A bottle like this could remind you of why you got into this appreciation business in the first place. It’s the promise and the delivery.

At story’s end, I’m unsure if you’ll be charmed by the wine. It’s likable enough, yes, and will play nice at cool room temp with a food you love, but charm is another layer – in my case, colored by superimposed history. When you think about it, there’s something to unadulterated, subjective enjoyment. It’s personal, it’s sacred and, besides, what better way to remember our stops along the open road?

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