Many of us will have seen dotted around the Périgord the posters advertising Château Corbiac and proclaiming it to be ‘le meilleur Pécharmant’, which is to say the best of the special appellation that has traditionally been seen as the finest wine of the Bergerac region.
This is quite a dramatic claim and it is based on an assessment of the number of coups de coeur awarded by the ‘Guide Hachette des vins’ to the various producers of Pécharmant over the past two decades. Corbiac has won five of these coveted awards, followed by three for Château de Rooy, two for Château Terre Vieille and for Domaine du Grande Jaure, one for Château de Tiregand and so on.
The annual Concours for the best Monbazillac wine is always a festive occasion, unlikely as that may seem on a grey Monday morning with some welcome rain at last replacing the long weeks of heat and drought.
This is not your usual wine-tasting, although each bottle was wrapped in the traditional black cloth and we were each equipped with a tasting notebook and a pen at the hospitable new Maison des Vins on the Bergerac quayside. It’s really worth a visit, with dozens of different wines on display.
South of the town of Bergerac and dominated by the Renaissance jewel of the château is the long ridge that forms the backbone of the Monbazillac appellation. At its eastern end, this ridge slopes down to the N21 and the much flatter plain that leads to Issigeac and Beaumont. The ground is deceptive, not being nearly as flat as you think, with little dells and gentle hillocks and they make excellent wine here, David Fourtout’s Les Verdots being the best known.
It will soon be ten years that I have known Pierre Desmartis, one of the first Bergerac winemakers to become a friend. We met in Paris, celebrating the way he’d just won three gold medals in a row at the Paris Concours. To give somebody else a chance they gave him the overall Prix d’Excellence instead.
Pierre was the first of the makers of Bergerac white wines to astonish me with the level of quality he achieved. Most of the Bergerac Secs I had tried before were perfectly quaffable but seemed destined more for a quick glug or to mix with crème de cassis to make a Kir than for a serious wine with dinner. For that I usually turned to a Sancerre, the white Burgundies or a Pessac-Léognan from the Bordeaux.
These are the months to be jumping in and out of the pool or the river and to enjoy eating in the open air and to welcome the long, slow ending of the day with a p’tit apéro. And here in the Périgord you can enjoy an evening drink that is wholly unique to this part of the world.
It is light, charming and delicious. It is still quite rare. And we can enjoy it thanks in large part to one extraordinary family, Gilles and Laetitia Gérault. It begins over twenty years ago when Gilles, who had graduated from wine school and had been working at a vineyard, suddenly had the opportunity to rent some vines at one of the oldest sites for wine in the Bergerac.
The winemakers of Bergerac have some wonderful plans for this summer, so snip this article out of the paper, stick it on the fridge door and prepare to sip, taste, buy and realise just how much fun can be had while learning more about the wines that provide the best quality for the price in France.
On May 31 and June 1 is the Vinata, a two-day festival of wine and music in Bergerac itself. Because the Maison des Vins, the headquarters of Bergerac wine, is under renovation, the event will be centred at the place Barbacane on the southern side of the old bridge and will kick off at 11 am with tastings and a gourmet market, musical parades and a concert in the evenings.
Hearty congratulations and a sincere toast to Christian Roche who has just been named Winemaker of the Year by the Hachette wine guide, the French bible of wines. It is a great honour, not just for him but for the recognition it signals for the wines of Bergerac, so long dismissed and patronised as the little brother of Bordeaux.
Along with a growing throng of other winemakers in the region, Christian is making seriously good and even great wines and selling them for a fraction of the swollen prices of Bordeaux. And now Hachette has recognised that the Bergerac offers the best quality for the price of any wines in France.
If you want a bit of history to go with your wine tastings, you can do no better than to visit the Château Bélingard in Pomport, ten minutes south of Bergerac on the D17. Just before the turn-off to the vineyard you will pass a small stone monument. This was the place where a disaffected and partly dispossessed local baron, Antoine de Rudel, started the Hundred Years War with a little local skirmish. The vineyard is less than an arrow flight away.
If you like your history even older, you will find on the château grounds a boulder into which the Celts carved a sacrificial stone chair. Indeed the name Bélingard comes from Celtic roots. Belinos was their god of the sun and of war. Gaard was their term for garden. So this is the garden of the sun god and maybe the war god, too. The stone chair is aligned precisely along the point of midday between sunrise and sunset on the day of the spring equinox.
A small town in the heart of Indre will again welcome lovers from across the country on 14th February and the nearest weekend. Why the attraction? The town of Saint-Valentin is the only place in France to bear the name of the patron saint of lovers. Residents deck their homes in blooms, the Jardin des amoureaux (lovers’ garden) opens its gates and free concerts take place to serenade courting couples. A post office, specially constructed for the week, sells commemorative stamps and postcards for the most ‘authentic’ Valentine’s card you’ll ever send.
If all that romance brings matters to a head, it’s even possible to take things one step further and tie the knot in the flower garden, with everything laid on, from hotels, hair and make-up to wedding cars, photographers and champagne. All you need to do is say “I do”….
The Prix Ragueneau is known as the top cookery prize in south-west France, featuring the black truffles and foie gras, the lamb and fowl and walnuts that are the best-known specialities of this magnificently endowed region.
But is also important to winemakers since each of the two dishes prepared by the five chefs in the final must be accompanied by its own wine, which has to be explained and the choice justified before the jury by the sommelier who shares the prize with the chef.