by Martin Walker
Spring is here and that means lamb with tender new vegetables, a meal that deserves a fine wine to accompany and enhance the food. But if like me and most other Brits you were brought up with the classic Sunday lunch of a leg of lamb with mint sauce, of chopped mint leaves mixed with sugar and malt vinegar, you might have trouble finding the right wine.
But there is a solution. Caro and Sean Feely of Terroir Feely in Saussignac make a magnificent red wine called Grace (around 17 euros at the vineyard) which I find has just the merest suspicion of mint along with the more typical flavours of spices and pepper. And it goes very well with lamb, British-style.
Of course, it goes even better with lamb roasted very slowly, the French way, on a bed of rosemary sprigs with slivers of garlic inserted into small incisions in the meat. And for a real treat, baste it with a couple of glasses of Monbazillac, cover the roasting pan with tinfoil and leave it for at least four hours at 150 degrees centigrade. You should not need a knife to carve it.
Lamb cooked this way is just made for the best Bergerac and Pécharmant wines. My favourite is a Château de Tiregand Grand Millésime 2011 (or a 2009 if you can find it). The Pécharmant is, as the name suggests, a charming hill to the north-east of Bergerac, where for some geological reason there is a layer of ferruginous clay (which means infused with iron) about fifteen metres below the surface. The locals call this layer Tran and the subtle mineral flavour is what gives these wines their special appeal. Open a couple of hours before serving, or decant the wine to let it breathe and loosen up.
These great Tiregands cost around 20 euros, but they also offer a wine that is made jointly with Julien de Savignac (who has shops in Bergerac, Bordeaux, Périgueux, Sarlat and Le Bugue). Called Tour d’Armand, it is a bargain at 8 euros.
For a Bergerac red, we are spoiled for choice. There is the Château de la Jaubertie, cuvée Mirabelle, at 15 euros, which you might think at first taste, bursting with fruit, came from California. But then the full richness of the wine and its depth start to overcome that initial fruit bomb effect that almost explodes in the mouth. British-owned by the Ryman family since the 1970s, Jaubertie is one of the loveliest châteaux in the Bergerac. Hugh Ryman has a well-deserved international reputation as a flying wine consultant, an expert who dashes around the world to advise others.
Then there are the great wines made by the family de Conti, who have been making wine in the Bergerac since 1925. Their Château Tour des Gendres was one of the vineyards that led the renaissance of fine Bergeracs, and like Jaubertie, they are certified as organic. Their standard Bergerac red is around 7 euros, a robust and very satisfying blend of Merlot and Malbec. But their Gloire de mon Père at 13 euros and their Moulin des Dames at 21 euros are very much worth exploring and there is no better way to do so than with a leg of slow-roasted lamb.
In my garden, the first beans are just about ready and so are the new potatoes, and I’m going on a walk this week with Paul of walkingdordogne.com, who is taking me on the wild garlic trail (one of several walks on offer on the very tempting website). So I’m hoping to get some wild garlic to insert into my lamb this weekend and I have ready a bottle of the new top-of-the-range wine from Jaubertie, called Colombier. It’s 35 euros but worth every penny.
Martin Walker, author of the best-selling ‘Bruno, chief of police’ novels, is a Grand Consul de la Vinée de Bergerac. Formerly a journalist, he spent 25 years as foreign correspondent for The Guardian and then became editor-in-chief of United Press International. He and his wife Julia have had a home in the Périgord since 1999 and one of his great hobbies is visiting the vineyards of Bergerac.