Domaine Cauhapé Jurançon Sec Chant des Vignes 2005
This week, a little pseudoscience prompted by my experience with this dry Jurançon from what is perhaps the leading estate in the appellation, Domaine Cauhapé, run by Henri Ramonteu and Edward de Ros.
It isn’t the first time our paths have crossed, as I had a peremptory taste in February 2007, when my admittedly brief note was very positive, describing an incisive and vibrant wine dominated by citrus flavour, specifically grapefruit. A more relaxed inspection of the wine, however, has revealed a little more complexity than this previous note suggests, as well as an aromatic point the presence of which I found at first a touch worrisome, but which then thankfully faded back into the wine, becoming a minor point rather than a dominating feature.
The 2005 Chant des Vignes from Domaine Cauhape has a bright and shimmering hue, and although it seems to have lost that vibrant grapefruit character there are other appealing elements on the nose, most notably a herby, garden mint perfume. Alongside it, however, there was also a trace of confected banana, more like banana flavoured sweets than the genuine item, and this has never been an aroma I have enjoyed in a wine. Although it is perhaps most commonly associated with early release Beaujolais fermented using carbonic maceration, and I have found it in the occasional Champagne, it does also occasionally crop up in dry white wines fermented cool, and this is certainly the case with the Chant des Vignes, which sees a 100% stainless steel vinification. Suitably enthused, I began to pull together a list of likely candidates for this displeasing element to the wine:
- Isoamyl acetate: perhaps the most likely candidate. Also known as banana oil, such is its resemblance to the aroma of the fruit in question, and even in tiny quantities (perhaps as low as 2 ppb) is easily detectable by the human nose – so much so that it has been used to test the efficacy of respirator masks. It is also a bee pheromone, a substance left behind after a sting in order to attract others to the attack, a fact which suggests to me drinking banana-scented wines outdoors on a warm summer day might not be very wise?
- Amyl acetate: obviously similar to the above, although (perhaps because it is an acetate) it may also evoke scents of bubble gum and pear drops as well as apple, melon and pear. In view of my thoughts of banana confectionery, another strong contender for the cause of the aroma in this particular Jurançon.
- Ethyl acetate: undoubtedly more readily associated with varnish aromas and oxidation, ethyl acetate, which is formed from the union of ethanol and acetic acid is also implicated in many fruit aromas; not only banana, but also apple, pear (and of course pear drops), pineapple and summer berry aromas.
- Ethyl butyrate: another easily detectable compound, at concentrations as low as 1 ppb. Also cited as responsible for apple, blackberry, pineapple and strawberry aromas.
- 1,5-dodecanolide: another confected bubble gum and pear drop culprit, so a good contender in this case.
- 1-phenylethyl acetate: this substance appears to be a plant pheromone which happens to smell of bananas.
- Isobutyl acetate: also evokes apple and fig.
Enough of the quackery though – fortunately for me, the isoamyl or amyl acetate, or whichever of the above is the culprit in this case, is not so evident on the palate, which has a full body, a touch of creaminess, with a lovely weight. There is a raft of un-bananery fruit, with a pithy nature, and lots of grip and substance. Overall, despite my initial misgivings, this is really excellent wine, the banana component indeed fading to become a minor nuance, and on reviewing my notes from my tasting in February I see that today I have scored it a little higher than I did then. Henri Ramonteu, and Domaine Cauhapé, are certainly names to trust when looking for a white that will provoke interest as well as give pleasure. 18/20 (22/10/07)