Sauternes and mangoes - not so dissimilar

Sauternes and mangoes – not so dissimilar

Living just above the Equator, Singaporeans do not experience seasonal change with which to chart our lives. Day in, night out, the mercury doesn’t shift very much outside of 35?C at noon and 25?C at night.

With no climatic change to convey the shifting moods of the year, I find myself relying on fruits to pinpoint where at Nature’s revolving door I happen to be standing. One particular favourite, the mango, arrives in April and May.

Cultivated throughout Asia, including in Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, none, however, can hold a candle to those from its birthplace. At first growing wild but husbanded for the last 4,000 years or so, the golden mangoes of India leave all others playing catch-up in its delicious trail.

Of all the varietals grown on that vast sub-continent, the noblest is the Alphonso. No bigger than the palm of one’s hand, precious Alphonsos fetch two or three times more than other mangoes.

The greatest terroir for this fruit is in Western India, in a sleepy village called Devgadh in Maharashtra (home, incidentally, to most of India’s vineyards). Appellation Devgadh Alphonso is as Sauternes is to sweet wine. Except that Devgadh is far tinier – more like Château d’Yquem.

There is much about an Alphonso mango to remind us of the richest wines of the world. Not just Sauternes and Barsac but also of Tokaji and, to a lesser extent – because the fragrance spectrum is different – Vouvray Moelleux, Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume, Riesling Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein, Vendange Tardive and Sélection des Grains Nobles.

Although young Sauternes, Barsac and Tokaji may hint at mangoes, the early aromas are more of pineapples, ripe citrus, spring honey and young raisins. Only when the wines shed their somewhat disjointed youth and become more settled and mature do the mangoes and apricots begin to show. By now, even the colour has assumed a shine resembling those fruits.

The perfume of an Alphonso can overwhelm an entire room. It clings effortlessly onto human clothing just as it lingers on the curtains. But if the fragrance is unremitting, it is not so easy to describe. Everything about the scent points to intense sweetness. Underneath that first impression though is a complex, nuanced richness with layers of mysterious fragrance.

As with wine, you don’t want your mango so sweet that it is also mushy. Suffer not, on the other hand, a green, tart, teardrop-shaped fruit. A great mango is all about balance. Ripe it has to be. But if too ripe, we lose interest after the first bite. A great mango must possess the necessary freshness to make us greedy for a second bite. The acidity helps define the richness. Sweetness, on its own, cannot do that. In that sense the 2001 vintage in Sauternes and Barsac is one of the greatest Alphonso mangoes of the 21st century.

What Poh Tiong’s Been Drinking This Month

CFM Marselan 2004

‘CFM’ stands for Chinese French Manor – this is a Sino-French government joint-venture. The vineyards are outside Beijing, and Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, developed by the French. (Technical director Li De Mei spent six months at Château Palmer in 2002). The aroma of this first vintage is a bit animal and leathery although the blackcurrants are trying to make it to the surface. Medium bodied, the fruit and tannins are soft, the winemaking very balanced.

Written by Ch’ng Poh Tiong