Its still autumn here in the Dordogne and winter is reluctant to show itself apart from a freezing snap at the end of October that prompted an immediate call to Eric the oil delivery man who deposited €250 worth of oil in the 1500 litre tank and wryly said he thought we would be seeing him again soon. Its not winter yet but he was right. Its often warmer out than in with these old stone houses.
Although Beaumont [Du Perigord] is technically not in a specific wine growing area we are lucky enough to have much to choose from within 1-2 hours drive.
AOC Bergerac is the biggest local wine producing region and compared to its lofty neighbors in Bordeaux produces great value for money reds as well as quaffable whites. A box of Petit Pont that might last a game of rugby [as opposed to the 5 weeks they claim on the box]is about €13. Its not great but its not awful either. Then you can move on to the Pecharmant region of Bergerac and choose from an array of really good value reds.
My daughter was recently here and we went straight from Bergerac airport to a nearby chateau [sums it up really]. The chateau in question is quite large, has ample parking [heaven knows why that’s relevant]is well advertised from the road and is roundly useless. We rang the bell and a lady finally emerged asking us what we wanted. Wine we said. Oh, ok then I’ll just open up. Red or white? Umm red please. 2015 or 2016? We got it over and done with quickly and bought a bottle of 2016 for €4. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was the head wine buyer for Tesco. I jest of course [sadly]but it sort of demonstrated how things could just work better here.
Monbazillac is just to the south of Bergerac and is famous for its sticky desert wines. Personally I love the stuff but don’t often eat dessert so you need to be with enough people who all like dessert wine so that you can all have a glass or two before moving onto the cheese. Or is it the other way round?
Mid November and its Beaujolais Nouveau time! We are nowhere near Beaujolais but isn’t it a great marketing roos!? €3-6 a bottle here and probably best drunk quickly and chilled. Is it just me or was this a much bigger event in the 80s? I recall a couple of raucous evenings in the early 80s when it arrived in Hong Kong and given its relative cheapness to all other wine back then it was a major green light to a big night. Maybe we have all gotten a bit snooty about wine since then..
Anyway seeing the signs for Beaujolais Nouveau made me think that we should head to Chateau Clarisse near St Emilion and owned by good friends of mine Didier and Olivia Le Calvez-Mathe, both supreme hoteliers in their own right and who bought Chateau Clarisse back in 2009. Its about 90 minutes from here by motorbike – we thought if we went by car we might be tempted to load up so this was a tactically astute move in a month in which the new shower room had run over budget.
The first thing that shocks you about the wine business is how susceptible it is to the weather and to disease. Our lovely host Alexia took us out amongst the vines where you could see the effects of mildew on the vines. Over 50% of the entire St Emilion region crop has been wiped out in 2018 by this disease. Added to that the effects of heavy hailstorms and the next thing you know 50% of your grapes are irreparably damaged. So when you next watch the weather forecast and get a little aggrieved to find out that it might rain tomorrow, spare a thought for wine makers around the world who will have a slightly bigger financial interest.
Anyway, Chateau Clarisse is a delightful small chateau just outside Pusseguin. Their main output is 3 different reds that are distinct in taste and prices, starting at €13 for the most quaffable of the 3, €23 for the middle version and then a big step up in price and quality and loveliness to around €35 for the Vielles Vignes 2016. A bargain I reckon. We bought the lower priced 2 and both were a delight. Roll on Xmas and the Vielles Vignes experience.
St Emilion itself is absolutely stunning. I had never visited before and was expecting something more akin to St Estephe which is a more workman like town, or indeed Pauillac. St Emilion just feels expensive and is soaked in lovely red wine – which of course it is. If wine is your thing and it sort of is mine then it must be on your bucket list. Lunch in the old square is a delight and well priced. House wine at around €20 and of course its rather lovely. I asked if they did a pichet [carafe]but received a rather cursory negative response. So a bottle it was.
Moving on from St. Emilion you are very quickly into the suburbs of Bordeaux and unless you want to visit the Cite du Vin its best to stay on the ‘peripherique’ or head straight to Blaye and get the car ferry over to Lamarque and continue the tour on the ‘left bank’. If anyone is interested I am organizing a bike ride from Beaumont to Blaye to Lamarque to Pauillac next May over 4 days, 3 nights taking in some fabulous chateaux and then back with the bikes on the train.
I think the Medoc area just about merits its own chapter given the complexity of the wine that is grown there but I will end by saying that if you go anywhere then go to the little village of Pez just outside of St Estephe. There are a number of chateaux in the village but the best of all is Chateau de Pez – the first chateau I ever visited in 1977 when I was working on a campsite in nearby Soulac. I worked for Canvas Holidays and we were responsible for the lovely British families that were coming out for their 2 weeks in the sun..only it rained sometimes so to fill in those rainy days we would arrange wine tasting trips to different chateaux. De Pez is etched upon my memory as the most incredible experience. The first time in my young life that I learned that wines from different years actually tasted different. And they did! It was a revelation and has stayed with me forever. Life beyond 70s Mateus Rose did exist. Even though Chateau De Pez is normally around €35 a bottle. Depending on the year of course…
So the beauty of a tour through Bergerac and Bordeaux in autumn is that it really is golden. The tourists have long since gone home. The 2018 crop is safely in large vats awaiting transfer to the barrel; the weather is still wonderful. We started lunch outside in St Emilion in mid November…ok we went indoors when the sun went in but many others stayed outside. We were on our way to Bordeaux and its thoroughly ghastly airport. What a pity. Everything else about Bordeaux has been transformed under mayor Alain Juppe – more details in a forthcoming blog.