Illustration by Sushrut Royyuru

Week 5: Apertif Perfection

Source: Ben Owen

Domaine Jean Perrier & Fils ‘Vielles Vignes’ 2019, Savoie, £10 as tested (Mix 6, inc. free delivery)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What makes a good aperitif?

The answer is more elusive than you might think. For a wine to merit drinking on its own, it must satisfy a range of different criteria.

Let’s start with the most obvious point: the taste. Without a meal to hide behind, an aperitif must be perfectly, exquisitely, relentlessly balanced and even. No off notes, nor a finish fit to raise an eyebrow or two.

Not that your choice has to be boring or bland. But so as to err on the side of caution, it might be worth steering clear of hard-hitting Riojas and Bordeaux that, unaccompanied by food, sink to the stomach like a lead weight.

A second and equally important factor is the backstory. In order to facilitate scintillating smalltalk with your dinner guests (Coronavirus permitting), be sure to pick a wine which you can spend a good few minutes ‘presenting’ in a seemingly off-the-cuff manner. When one or two of your invitees eventually compliment your good choice in beverages, you can proceed to scatter titbits of information on what they are drinking.

A word of advice, though: always start your comments on the wine with expressions like “I think” or “if I remember correctly”. This will then provide you with the perfect excuse to ‘double-check’ the bottle, and in the process fully show off its quality.

This leads to the final consideration of pairing – and not just in its culinary-related sense. Although it goes without saying that lighter-flavour dishes call for lighter-flavoured wines, a correct match for the atmosphere is just as important.

An awkward catch up with the family? Go for a Graves: here’s a wine whose aroma (and alcohol) will get everyone talking.

A romantic date? Choose a Chardonnay for a drink as sophisticated and cryptic as the first impression you want to set.

And at any rate, in the bottom rungs of the drinks aisle right next to the Tescalator, there’s bound to be something knocking around for more… budget-oriented tastes.

When it eventually came to taking these criteria on board so as to select the perfect aperitif for The Weekend Wine List’s fifth instalment, I have again had to move a pound or two above the usual price range. Granted, there are countless seven or eight-quid bottles that could have featured on the list. But my logic is this: why make a huge sacrifice on any one of these points, when for a fraction more money you can acquire a true all-rounder?

Of course, if you cannot justify a tenner on a bottle of wine, I understand entirely. Go and read my review on Weekend Two’s £8 Gaillac Perle Evocation, which tastes sensational and is nothing short of a steal.

Still here, then? I feel sorry for your student loan. One sip of this week’s Domaine Jean Perrier & Fils Savoie Apremont, and you will find it hard to go back.

In the UK at least, it would seem that the gateway to great wine lies at around ten pounds per bottle. Making this investment returns distinguished appellations with exceptional climatic conditions, as well as winegrowers whose attention to detail lives up to their soil’s potential. Last week’s Malbec from the acclaimed Uco Valley was evidence in point, and this expression of Apremont continues in the tradition.

The clue is in the name. Nestled in the Alps not far from the Swiss border, Savoie is a part of France I know well, albeit for reasons other than the département’s internationally famous ski resorts. If hurtling down a snow-covered slope at fifty miles an hour is your idea of a fun winter getaway, then you too will probably know the area – and quite possibly this week’s wine. I hear Apremont is hugely popular amongst skiers, and with its delicate notes of lemongrass-infused mountain sprigs, I can definitely see why.

Make no mistake, though: this is not merely a local offering you ‘make do with’ on holiday. Comparable to a mini-appellation with its own microclimate, the cru Apremont is praised by my trusty wine guide as “[one] of the best, most Alpine expressions of Jacquère”, the local grape that goes into this and many other Savoie whites.

Combine these exceptional natural inputs with a winegrower whose family has been established in the area for longer than my Oxford college’s very existence, and the credentials of this bottle are hard to fault.

The words light, airy, and subtle will do nicely as a summary of the tasting experience. This wine is incredibly delicate yet does not lose that dry flintiness which many drinkers regard with great esteem. No noticeable aftertaste, no discordant acidity, no saccharine edge: nothing, bar the gentlest evocation of white nectarine and Alpine flowers.

This Apremont is not a wine to drink after another, much more expressive white. But with the Spotify jazz playlist queued up in the background for atmospheric effect, a chilled glass or two of the stuff is the perfect way to ease into the night.

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.