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.

It is not always easy to find a sparkling wine from Bergerac and the ones I like from Château Feely and from Château de Fayolle are worth drinking on their own. I have mentioned the great wines of Sean and Caro Feely before but Château de Fayolle is also worth exploring. Their 2012 Sang du Sanglier (Boar’s Blood) red wine is very good indeed and so is their Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, made entirely from Sémillon grapes.

We always keep a bottle of liqueur de cassis handy in summer for making Kir, the delightful drink named for a former mayor of Dijon. His recipe called for one part cassis (blackcurrant) to two parts white wine, which we find far too strong. We just use a splash of cassis and then a straightforward Bergerac wine from a 5-litre box. And in summer, we dilute the result with soda water, half and half, and add an ice cube.

You are not limited to cassis. We also use liqueur de mûre (blackberry) and liqueur de pêche (peach). And the Sarlat distillery also makes liqueurs of truffle and of fig which make for an interesting change. (They also make my favourite pastis, that summer drink that turns milky when you add water and tastes of aniseed.)

We also use our own home-made vin de noix, walnut wine, as the basis for a light summer drink, served with ice and a crushed mint leaf, all topped up with soda water. And nothing could be easier to make than this classic drink of the Périgord.

Sometime before the end of June, pick about forty green walnuts. Chop them into quarters, put them into a big enamel pot of the kind the French call a fait-tout (because it does everything) and add half a kilo of granulated sugar. (The French neighbours who taught me this insist on using a whole kilo of sugar but I find it makes the wine too sweet. I suggest you start with half a kilo and add more sugar next year if you prefer it sweeter.)

Then add eight litres of very ordinary red or white wine, depending on your preference, and a litre of eau de vie. France being a very civilized country, this can be bought from your local pharmacy.

Mix it all up, cover the pot and store in a dark corner for at least six weeks. Give it the occasional stir but it doesn’t matter too much if you forget. After six weeks (or even seven or eight), stir it well, then filter it through a sieve and cheesecloth and bottle the results. It is now ready to drink, and makes a pleasant aperitif, or an after-dinner tot. I think it improves in the bottle, although the experts tell me that this can’t be so, at least until they try my 2002.

But it also makes a lovely summer drink when mixed with soda water or ginger ale. One French friend likes his mixed with Diet Coke. Another uses fizzy lemonade. Half the fun is in the experiments.

You can also make an excellent summer wine with the leaves from your cherry or peach trees if they have not been sprayed. Pick about fifty cherry leaves when the cherries are ripe, put them in a big glass jar with a sealable lid. Add a wine glass full of sugar and another full of vodka, toss in five black peppercorns and add a litre of cheap red wine.

Shake it up and leave it for a week in a cool, dark corner, shaking a couple of times each day. Then filter it through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and bottle the result. It is a little stronger than ordinary wine so drink it with soda water and ice cubes like the Corsicans do. They always add some ice to their wine in summer and call it a plouf, which they say comes from the sound the wine makes when the ice is dropped in.

Along with the lovely plop when a bottle of wine is opened, that to me is the sound of summer.

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.

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