Illustration by Sushrut Royyuru

Week 2: A white wine for the red addicts

Source: Ben Owen

Gaillac Perle ‘Evocation’ 2019, £8 as tested (Mix 6, inc. free delivery)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

For all the expertise that years of responsible drinking have given me, I must start by sharing a secret with this column’s readership. Religiously, consistently, and at times quite irrationally, I have always preferred reds over whites.

Trying to pinpoint the cause of this bias has been a taxing investigation. Nonetheless, several years of trial and error evaluating a statistically significant sample of bottles have finally yielded a hypothesis. Because of either a terrible viticultural selection at my local supermarket, a better taste in reds amongst the friends who got me into wines, or simply a four-pound Sauvignon Blanc that in its rankness left me scarred for life, I believe that my relationship with white wine got off to a rocky start and is still in the process of recovering to this day.

When it comes to reviewing paler grapes, these are no small considerations. My tastes are picky, and most of what I try does not come close to making the cut. On the rare chance I should recommend a bottle, it has to be something special.

It is at this point that Weekend 2’s Gaillac Perle ‘Evocation’ enters onto the scene.

Perhaps this southern French wine’s greatest selling point is that literally nothing about it screams for attention. Just take one glance at the comically unenticing label. Whilst it looks like an intern may well have come up with the design on Microsoft Word about five minutes before the project deadline expired, this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. Minor growers who spend significant sums decorating the outside of the bottle sometimes do so in order to compensate for what lies within. And besides: as the maxim goes, a good product should sell itself.

The same can be said about the backstory. Like last week’s Tarima from Alicante, the humble appellation of Gaillac and its mix of local grapes carry little recognition here in the UK. The area even warrants the foreboding description of “decidedly various” in my viticultural reference book. Yet does this same rule not equally apply to the world’s most famous wine-producing regions? In my time I have had my fair share of ropey Riojas and disappointing Bordeaux, of which many have cost twice the £8 asking price of this white without tasting nearly half as good.

And then there is the wine itself. The first words that spring to mind are “highly drinkable”. To appreciate the subtleties, though, patience is key. Leave it in the fridge for a good couple of hours until thoroughly chilled, and uncork just before serving. Unlike most reds and bolder whites, this blend is best enjoyed fresh.

When you do finally pour it into your glass of choice, only the faintest of swills is needed to bring aromas of peach and vanilla into life. These two notes then continue on the palate, combining with a gentle touch of honeydew melon and floral sprigs that in their light and refreshing character thankfully avoid becoming overly sweet. The bottle cites hints of grapefruit and lemon, and in the wine’s closing notes I can definitely see where the growers are coming from: the vineyard’s clay-rich soils leave a citrus acidity to stimulate any remaining taste buds left untouched, yet crucially without that overpowering, incongruous finish I have encountered in similarly-priced Italian whites.

An altogether understated experience then, but by no means boring. If I have always had a soft spot for expressive, bold, tannin-rich reds, then in its evenness, its delicacy, and ultimately its clever balance, this particular white wine is pleasing for very different reasons indeed.

Granted, the Gaillac Perle ‘Evocation’ will not be to everyone’s taste. We are a long, long way from the characteristic fruitiness of Marlborough or the unmistakable Californian depth. But such comparisons miss its raison d’être.

At the end of the day, little else will so vividly stir memories of a southern French city on one distant, pre-Covid summer’s evening, as the sun’s heat fans a gentle brouhaha from the bars, brasseries, and other buildings teeming with life.

Ben Owen

A contributor to The Oxford Blue since its inception, Ben’s pieces explore topics as diverse as travel, literature, politics, and wine. His translation work has also helped foreign journalists share their ideas in the English language.