The Wines of Bergerac – Describing a taste

by Martin Walker

One of the biggest problems with wine is people like me who try to write about it. Almost anything to do with the human senses is very difficult to put into words. How do you define the delicacy of a mother’s touch, the intimacy of a lover’s caress, or the kindness of a stranger’s helping hand?

And wine affects so many different senses which interact with one another. Obviously wine affects most our sense of smell and taste. But it also involves our sight. If you doubt this, there is an interesting experiment: see how often you can tell the difference between a red, white or rose wine once you are blindfolded. The colour of a wine in a glass, whether pale or golden, light red or deep burgundy, subtly affects our expectation of its taste.

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The Wines of Bergerac – What’s in a grape?

by Martin Walker

A reader of this column recently sent a message to the website for my novels,, to ask if I could offer a simple guide to the different kinds of grape that are used in the Bergerac. So here goes.

Almost all Bordeaux and Bergerac red wines are based on a blend of two grapes, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sometimes different winemakers will add some Cabernet Franc or some Malbec, which is known locally as côt. This is a very old grape, served at the wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine in 1152, and it is the basis of the dark red wines of Cahors.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Organic wines

by Martin Walker

This is a nervous time for winemakers, scanning the skies and weather forecasts for these last weeks before the harvest. After a very wet May and June and a hot, dry summer they now hope for some late decent rains before dry weather for picking the grapes. Above all they pray for none of the hail storms that can devastate an entire vineyard in minutes. It is always a gamble, to pick a little early and avoid the risk of hail, or to hang on for those extra few days for the full ripening.

But many of them in the Bergerac will be facing another dilemma, whether or not to join the growing local trend towards organic wines. There are now more than 2,000 organic vineyards in the world and over 900 are in France, but that still accounts for only four in every hundred French vineyards. Along with Alsace, the Bergerac has the most of all the French regions and more and more of our local winemakers see it as a useful and beneficial way of making the Bergerac distinct.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Night markets

by Martin Walker

The night markets of the Dordogne region began around a decade ago and have become highly popular and an instant tradition. They also offer an opportunity to explore the region and to discover a whole variety of lesser-known local wines. What’s more, the food and the music can be terrific.

The first of these evening markets took place in the hilltop village of Audrix, between Le Bugue and St-Cyprien, in the shadow of the 12th century church. Initially, only people from the local commune and their relatives were supposed to set up stalls to offer their food and drink. The event was so intimate that the village mayor would cook omelettes on a portable gas stove and if they ran out of chairs, you nipped into the church and borrowed theirs.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Creating mixers

by Martin Walker

This is the time of year to enjoy something cool and refreshing in the open air. But it’s also a time to be judicious in your drinking. Summer in the Périgord is warm and the temptation to drink simply because you are thirsty can be hard to resist. And particularly if you or your guests are driving, that can become tricky.

The solution is to mix your drinks. For our family, this is the time when we tend to drink spritzers, white or rosé wine mixed with fizzy water or ginger ale, or sparkling wine mixed with fruit juice. Orange juice is always popular, but after many experiments, we enjoy it with apple juice, mango juice and in one inspired moment rhubarb juice which adds a very refreshing tang.

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The Wines of Bergerac – The women winemakers of Bergerac

by Martin Walker

Along with the Universities of Bordeaux, Padua and Melbourne, the Davis campus in California is one of the world’s great wine schools and last year for the first time, half of the graduates were women. And our own Bergerac region is remarkable for the number of women making terrific wines.

Not all of them are French. The legendary Patricia Atkinson of Clos d’Yvigne may have retired but the wines she made are still being produced by her successors. Le Rouge et le Noir may be the best known, a classic blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon but I also enjoy the wine she called Le Prince, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. And her book, The Ripening Sun, is strongly recommended as one brave woman’s account of a triumphant and often lonely struggle to make prize-winning wines from scratch.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Pairing wine with Spring lamb

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.

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The Wines of Bergerac – Marketing Bergerac wines abroad

by Martin Walker

We are fortunate in the Bergerac that our local wines are not well known in the international market. That means more is available for us and the prices we pay in this region are significantly lower than those for the better-known wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy.

But it is sad for our local winemakers who deserve to be far better and more widely known. It is not an easy life with a great deal of hard work, steep labour costs and they are constantly at the mercy of variable weather.

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The Wines of Bergerac – The pleasure of buying directly from the producer

by Martin Walker

One of the great pleasures of being in this part of France is the chance to potter around the wine country, calling in at vineyards to taste the wines and buy directly from the producer. Winemakers enjoy these visits, and not only because they get the full price for their wine rather than sharing it with various middlemen.

The best place to start is at the Maison des Vins de Bergerac on Quai Salvette on the riverbank in the heart of old Bergerac. They offer tastings and sell wine but the real prize is their Carte touristique du vignoble, the map that shows (almost) all the vineyards and gives phone numbers and addresses. To be listed in the guide, vineyards have to be open to the public and offer tastings (dégustations), but it’s best to check opening hours, and more and more of them have modern tasting rooms and even English-speaking staff.

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The Wines of Bergerac – The pedigree of Bergerac wines

by Martin Walker

Like most Brits who live in this part of France, I enjoy the wine and believe that the wines of Bergerac represent what the French call un bon rapport qualité-prix, or excellent value for money. The effect of speculation, wine investors and the surging demand from China have combined to price the most celebrated wines of Bordeaux out of the reach of most of us. In this and future columns, I plan to suggest some of the Bergerac wines that I find most appealing and which will not break the bank.

Bergerac wines have a very long pedigree. Laurent de Bosredon, who built up Château Bélingard, reckons his is the oldest vineyard in Western Europe, and proudly displays a Celtic chair chiseled from stone to prove it. The name itself comes from the Celtic: ‘gaard’ meant garden and ‘Belinos’ was the god of the sun and of war. And wine was being made when this region was part of the Roman Empire. The competition so alarmed the Italian winegrowers that in 96AD they appealed to the Emperor Domitian to ban the sale of wines from Gaul and destroy the vines.

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