by Martin Walker
Despite all the worries, writing about wine in these troubling days of the coronavirus and under lockdown has its benefits. This is the time to review your own cellar, whether it be a handful of bottles or a whole underground cave lined wall-to-wall with liquid treasures. This is also an excellent time to plan for your enjoyment of wines in the future.
Lots of winemakers in the Bergerac are under real financial pressure since so many of their sales outlets have had to close and the lockdown means you cannot visit the vineyards to taste and buy on the spot. The best way to help is to contact your favourite winemaker by phone or email and ask if you can buy a bon d’achat. That means you pay him a hundred euros or whatever now by cheque or credit card, and in return you get a credit note for that amount of wine when you can next visit the vineyard.
Many winemakers are making a special effort to stay in touch with their clients online now that they have had to close their tasting rooms. Some of them run blogs on their websites, so I give a hearty cheer to Caro Feely of Château Feely; to Sue and Humphrey Temperley at Château Lestevenie; to Pierre Desmartis at Château La Vieille Bergerie and to Laurent de Bosredon at Château Bélingard.
Bruno Bilancini of Château Tirecul La Gravière, the master of Monbazillacs, has a section on his website of 40 recipes and some interesting musings on the pairings of wine and food. It is in French (Google Translate comes in useful) but strongly recommended.
The problem for the Bergerac is that most of the best winemakers sell mainly at the vineyard or at the specialist wine stores that we are no longer authorised to visit. It is bizarre that the French state says that the tabacs should remain open as essential services but that wine stores should not.
So most of us will only be buying wines at supermarkets, but look on the bright side. Some of our best vineyards are now making good, cheaply-priced wines that are on sale at supermarkets. Here are some of the best:
Daniel Hecquet of Château Puy Servain in the Montravel is marketing a new wine called Puy 178, named for a high point of his vineyard, some 600 ft above sea level. He offers a red (all Merlot), and a white (all Sauvignon) and they are now available at Intermarché for less than 5 euros a bottle. They are IGP rather than Montravel appellation but they are good, honest wines and excellent value.
Hugh Ryman of Château de la Jaubertie has been for some years offering a similar brand for regional supermarkets which is an organic wine called Natura. Priced at just over 5 euros at Intermarché, I buy lots of his Natura white wine in summer when thirsty friends visit and we’re never disappointed.
At Carrefour I came across another decent find, a full-blooded, very dark and intense Bergerac red, Château La Salagre at 5.95 euros. At Leclerc, they have some good offerings of dessert wine, a Saussignac from Château Court-les-Mûts at 12.12 euros for a half-litre bottle; a better bargain from Bruno Bilancini, his Les Pins at 9.90 euros; and my best buy came from the ever-reliable Christian Roche at Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure for a full-sized bottle of Grains d’Or Monbazillac at 8.95 euros.
But you are not limited to supermarkets, even under the lockdown. There are in the department of the Dordogne more than a dozen big stores of the chain from the farmers’ co-op, La Périgourdine. They have excellent collections of Bergerac wines, along with plants, seeds and every manner of clothing and equipment for farmers and gardeners. I regularly visit the one in Le Bugue to see what is on offer.
Then there are the Maisons des producteurs which sell locally-sourced produce, from cheese and dairy products to meats, excellent jams and honey and they also sell wine. It is hard to beat the value of the wine from Domaine de Grange Neuve that I find there, a 10-litre box of white or red for 25 euros. In the summer months, when the house is full of family and friends we get through one of these each week for easy drinking. With a splash of crème de cassis it makes a very acceptable Kir.
If you have never done so, this lockdown is also an excellent moment to start keeping a cellar book. Some people organise their books by region, others by year, but even if you have only a few bottles, the cellar book gives you an opportunity to write down your own judgments on each wine you drink.
You can give points for the bouquet, for the immediate taste in the mouth, for the aftertaste and so on. This will make you think about wine a little differently, and it is always useful to refer back to your notes in the cellar book when deciding what to buy next.
If you are in lockdown with members of your family it is interesting to get each drinker to give his or her own verdict on what they like and why. A blind tasting between three or four different wines is a cheerfully different way to spend an evening and it is much more convivial than watching TV or playing internet games. So look on the bright side, and enjoy the wine you’re drinking now and the wine you’re planning to enjoy in the future. Santé!
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.