20 April 2016
THE BURNISHING FLAVOURS OF AUTUMN
With pruning comes a change in one's flavour yearnings and I'll bet it's mainly about terpenes
by PHILIP WHITE
Secret confessions: Whitey thinks his preferred flavours are changing with the season and it's all to do with the spinning terpene wheel:
Winter's hauling further in beneath, dragging its chill into the rocks. Not much rain, and none forecast, but ants and wood ducks seem to be expecting it. A kestrel watched me from a vineyard post yesterday and the ravens seem to anticipate the placentas that come with lambing.
March, from The Grandes Heures of Ann de Bretagne ... pruning time
With the autumn rides winter and her cohorts. They change one's flavour and aroma obsessions. They come and go like the tides, these seasonal cycles of preferred flavours and bouquets. New pennants and tags. I think it becomes more precise - or at least more entertaining - the higher one's mileage if not sheer plumage. Which is never to say that the old cycle won't surprise you with sudden new yearnings and the stuff you'll crash into in their pursuit.
Sometimes it's like Mardis Gras.
In recent weeks I've lost my hot weather dependence on the crunch of cool fresh salad greens.
Never much of a Savvy-B gal, I can imagine losing one's addiction to its bracing greenness as the autumn performs her pretty slaughterhouse job in putting an end to the season of growth and opening the door to those damned crows feet of winter.
I lose some of my lust for fresh Riesling about now, and find myself combing the cosmos for flavours with more fat on their breezy edge. Chardonnays with just the right amount of butter in their teeth.
This comes when polite bacteria, in a non-alcoholic, secondary, 'malo-lactic' fermentation, turn the grapes' natural acid from stainless malic to the chubbier, fleshier, fatty lactic acid of milk. Like the first thing many of us tasted after birth. Not merely to push onomatopæa, they're umami flavours.
As far as flavour and aroma goes round here about now, Picasso knocks off to chase the sun t'wards Africa; Rubens moves in sideways for winter.
The crumbly dry cheeses of the heat give way now for precious slices from creamier more mature wheels of Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano. Just before they harden and the walls grow cold.
At this point I should reveal that this column is being driven by the beautiful Romney Park Gloria Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2012 which is rockin with the Bertinelli M30 Millesimato Grand Cru Parmigianno Reggiano I find in Marino's.
Next thing you know you're drinking Pinot noir, and then more mature Pinot noir from greater years not far south of Dijon while you're trying to work out how to explain something along the lines of where all the money went.
With respect to the great John Prine, "There's a hole in Daddy's throat where all the money goes" ... photo©Philip White
And why the more you spend, the older and fresher they get.
Blazed by your own mission creep. When you eventually hit the Shiraz, you pretend that's the antidote, like whew that's better and you're all better now.
And the matter of really good Barolo and the grainy wince of light that brings from some other age is yet to be addressed.
"Did the season change?"
"That must be where the house went."
This all seems quite logical to me. The yearnings for more comfort as the season chills. To the point of total dwuggled delusion. Not waving, taking a selfie.
So it's interesting to feel a severe list to things bitter and contrasting at the same change of time as the silk wave. Like beyond even the hops of the lagers through the ales threshold into the extreme bitterness of the Kuding-cha 'tea' made from the holly leaf Ilex kaushue 苦丁茶 into the nether regions of wormwood in the form of Artemis absinthium. You'll see a word you know in there.
An infusion of either of these is a challenge for anybody with a normal tolerance of bitterness, but even when I add leatherwood honey to my handful of fresh wormwood tips subsiding in a pot of fresh-boiled sky water, I don't much alter or filter my yearning for the refreshing, almost antiseptic, antibacterial nature of that powerful absinthium herb.
I suspect this vicious bastard of a plant even makes life hard for viruses.
It'll hound gout.
So a simple yearning for sweet also brings a counterbalancing taste for things more complex in their bitterness than say the simple grassy methoxypyrazine edge of Kiwi Savvy-B.
In the autumn.
I keep thinking of Cherry Heering, the bitter black cherry aperitif liqueuer of the Danes. Squash black cherries into big oak vats, commence ferment, drown in strong white spirit, keep five years with herbs and spices in smaller oak, bottle, wait, drink.
I've not had a bottle of this for years, but lately its memory is fresh in my sensories. Its infusion of herbs always make me suspect juniper and wormwood.
Which leads me to terpenes. These natural volatile oils and compounds give to many fruits, berries and leaves their most impressive and helpful ingredients. They all bounce happily through the plant books together, giggling across that short cut from hemp to red wine.
I read in my tides a seasonal mood swing away from the stimulating limonene of summery citrus rinds, juniper and mint toward three other turpenes: humulene, linalool and myrcene, which are still sort of citrussy but in a more complex and woody way. More spicy. A wider range of woody lignins.
Citrus by the fire. Cedar in the pot belly; citrus and ginger marmalade in the pot. Wearing a peat lug tweed.
The earthy humuline is an appetite suppressant found in hops and coriander, a bitterness pathway I suspect may lead to wormwood eventually. Wurmud, vermuth, wormwood: it's in my bones.
Linalool, my USA guide suggests, is easy found in lavendar, laurel, birch and rosewood. It's a step beyond the juice of citrus into the juice of citrussy timber. Sedative chill out. I could rub some rosewood oil into the waist of my old guitar and we'd flavour out together.
Myrcene's in mango, citrus, lemongrass, thyme and bayleaves and is more chill out dragon's milk nowness if you must.
Stack all this up and it looks to me like I'll be tolerating more burnished woody spice in my reds this winter. And my fruits. It'll be interesting to see where that takes us but I'll bet I can never afford it and it's from either the French or Italian side of the Alps.
Silly thing is the list of terpenes I've quoted comes from the USA marijuana business journal Leafly, from their terpene flavour wheel explaining which strands of pot are rich in what. Terpenes are the building blocks of wine flavour.
Still awaiting a terpene wheel from the wine biz. Gimme science please.
In the meantime I'm doing a comforting seasonal shift of gastronomic produce, wondering which last waves of fruit may come through before it's time for the juicy cutlets of spring.
Oh yes. As the season changes I find myself eating meat much less frequently. It's not squeamish, sanctimonious or religious. I just seem to be losing another addiction.
But also true to season, I gluttonised on Marino Hot Cacciatora last night. A retreat from meat does not bar this most exquisitely complex smoked pickle of it. Not even when the weather takes a turn like this.
Or have I dreamt up a phantom freeze to justify the pig-out? Contrary to their local human, my magpies act like this might already be spring.
Okay then. Yes, I'd love a ten-year-old Clare Riesling, with its touch of the autumn burnish. Thankyou. Thankyou.