Friday, 16 March 2012

Bergerac and Montravel

In the light of Parker giving a record 18 perfect 100 point scores to the 2009 Bordeaux wines and the subsequent price hike that has ensued. I thought that it would be a good time to look at Bordeaux’s neighbors.

If you follow the Dordogne river inland you pass directly from Bordeaux into the rolling Bergerac countryside. 
As might be expected the wines are stylistically similar with Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle being grown for whites, and the Bordeaux quadrilogy predominant for the reds. Those that like their ampelographic trivia will be pleased to know that merille and perigord can also be found (though to my knowledge I’ve yet to taste them).

There are both sweet wines from Saussignac and the once coveted Monbazillac, and reds, but I was only looking at dry whites and pinks.

In Australia they have coined the delightful neologism that is the Savalanche, the avalanche or tidal wave of cheapish fresh Kiwi Sauvignon, against which their domestic producers cannot compete in the fresh summer drinking market. Well Bergerac can, this (along with the Cote de Duras) is prime fresh summer Sauvignon territory. The wines are nicely priced and personally I’m always a bit surprised that we don’t see more of them in the UK market, given our established predilection for all things Sauvignon.

The standard blend is mostly Sauvignon Blanc with smidgens of Semillon and Muscadelle to add body and aromatics. This works well, the Muscadelle more often than not adding a delicate white flower or mandarin like note to the wines.

Chateau Roque Peyre, a smallish family owned estate seemed to me to demonstrate exactly what Bergerac Blanc was offering, their cuvee Subtilite being 90% Sauvignon with the rest being Semillon and Muscadelle, temperature controlled steel tank fermentation with a preferment skin maceration had delivered a delightfully aromatic nosewith ripe stone and tropical fruits on the palette some vibrant acidity and just a touch of apple skin on the finish. All this for €4.80ish.

Most producers make a rose, though there has been a slight chance in style over the years, with people complaining that domestically people either want something slightly sweet, or the salmon pinkish herbal tinged hues of their Provencale competitors.

Chateau de la Jaubertie approach the issue with two cuvees, a fruity blend, resplendent with strawberry and raspberry like notes that called for mot much more than some friends, sunshine and a corner of a park (I might stoop to glasses too).

Their Mirabelle rose de Chateau de la Jaubertie was somewhat more interesting, 100% Merlot fermented in barrique and spending 6 months on lees. This was closer in colour to a Clairette, and was much more restrained in the fruit department, making up for this with a fuller and more appealing mouth feel and certain seriousness of purpose, herby cold roast lamb with a well dressed salad perhaps, definitely a rose for the table though.

Stepping up in the seriousness stakes brought the more age worthy whites.

Hence Montravel:

The first sub region reached as one ventures inland on the right bank, to put it in a geographic context this abuts the edge of the Cotes de Castillon, a name which should make English wine lovers misty eyed in reverie of what could have been, for it was there in 1451 that John of Talbot lost the final and decisive battle in the hundred years war, casting the Bordelais into the purgatory that was being French (and look how badly they’ve suffered since). However I digress.

Montravel is an appellation for classy whites, legally Semillon must make a minimum of 25% of the blend and it’s for this that producers tend to label their crisp, fruity, aromatic and Sauvignon dominated cuvees as Bergerac Blanc while retaining the Montravel appellation for their more serious barrique aged cuvee. It’s said that there is a more mineral nervosity to the wines of Montravel in comparison to Bergerac, but this was hard to see given the way that most of the Bergerac Blancs I tasted were clearly designed to highlight Sauvignon aromatics, so a comparison would have been slightly unfair.

Chateau du Bloy, Le Bloy, Montravel Sec 09 fitted this mold neatly, a healthy 20% of Semillon (yes I know that legally there needs to be 25%, so either my reference book is out of date, or it’s the common issue in France where no one pays a blind bit of notice to the letters of the law) and barrique ageing. This was all citrus oils and minerals, a slightly salty finish and that wet stone patina of bottle age.

I like Bergerac wines a lot, they fit neatly into a price quality ratio that I’m happy with,  obviously there are outliers in the region, Chateau Tour des Gendres immediately springs to mind, but I’ll cover them in more detail along with the intriguing Chateau Masburels Montravel later.

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