I got lazy—and my wife called me on it.
There are lots of wines in the world. I have my tasting beats; I try to be thorough. But you can't cover everything, right? Well, that's not the way Nancy sees it.
We were out for dinner, and our middle course was a pasta dish, with Dungeness crab and broccoli. I asked the sommelier if a red wine was the call, but he didn't think so, given the broccoli and the earthiness of the sauce. He suggested that a white wine, something equally rich and earthy, would be ideal.
"Do you have an Arbois?" I asked.
That piqued his interest. He had one by the bottle, but he was happy to open it and pour a glass for us, knowing he could serve other customers a pour, too, and not waste the bottle (a proactive move that should be used by more sommeliers, in my opinion).
"What's an Arbois?" my wife asked as the sommelier went off to get the wine.
The Arbois appellation (which draws its name from the town of Arbois) is the heart of the Jura region. Located along the eastern border of France, it runs parallel to Burgundy and is just a short drive from Switzerland.
Arbois whites are produced from three grapes, the obscure Savagnin as well as the better-known Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. The Chardonnays and Pinot Blancs are basically a poor man's Bourgogne blanc. But the Savagnins are different—typically made in an oxidative style, they wind up displaying rancio, Sherry-like notes of walnuts, brown butter and bitter almond. Yet they're also creamy and long, with a vibrant minerality. They're as far from the modern style as you can get, and they are nearly invisible to the typical U.S. wine consumer. How invisible? Wine Spectator has a database of over 140,000 wine reviews—and six of them are Arbois (the appellation also includes red, rosé and sparkling wines).
The sommelier brought up the bottle, a '97 from Jacques Puffeney, the acknowledged leader of Arbois producers. It showed lovely floral, peach and mineral notes with an earthy undertone, and a rich, creamy texture. With the dish it was sublime—the perfect wine and food match. Neither takes the upper hand, while both show off their best facets. I was really enjoying it. So was Nancy, surprisingly enough—she often veers away from me whenever I have a glass of manzanilla Sherry (which has similar aromatics).
Then Nancy started to pepper me with questions. She wanted to know what score I or someone else at Wine Spectator had given the wine. I had no answer; we have no reviews in our database of any Puffeney wines, I said meekly. She wanted to know which editor was responsible for the Arbois wines. I had no answer; the Jura is basically overlooked, I mumbled.
I tried to counter that with minimal consumer interest and tiny production, it didn't do us much good to chase after such esoteric wines. I tried to tell her that the importer probably brings in so little, it wouldn't benefit him to send the wine in for review. It was a weak defense, and I knew it.
My wife, a former lawyer, turned to her best prosecutorial voice and continued the attack.
"How many subscribers do you have?" Close to 400,000, I sighed, sensing my impending doom.
"If you wrote about this wine, you think maybe 200 of them would go out and try it? Wouldn't that be a success?"
She rested her case. I had no rebuttal. I had gotten lazy, and my wife called me on it.
So if 200 of you go out and track down an Arbois white made from Savagnin, whether you like it or not, please let me know. I need to convince Nancy I'm working hard again.
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