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Rose Murray Brown: Discovering Dordogne wines beyond the tourist options

Scotsman wine columnist Rose Murray Brown picks out some of the best wines from Dordogne that you can now get in the UK

Published: April 12, 2016
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The green valleys of the Dordogne have long been a tourist hot-spot. Visitors to this beautiful corner of France discover a wealth of little known wines, from sweet Saussignac to fleshy red Montravel, but they are often hard pressed to find these wines on the shelves when they return to the UK.

Dordogne is largely neglected by UK wine merchants and supermarkets because many of the wines make up the cheaper end of the spectrum of white and red Bordeaux. Names here are confusing, too; with Bergerac and its subzones there are 13 appellations, but some are small, selling only to locals and holidaymakers.

Today, thanks to outside investors and dedicated locals, wine making standards have improved, but you still need to choose carefully to be rewarded with anything of real substance.

Stylistically, I find the wines of Bergerac in the Dordogne to be a cross between the subtle charm of Bordeaux and the more rustic, edgy malbec-based reds of Cahors in the Lot valley to the east. There are still too many cheap, cheerful wines here, as many Bergerac growers sell to co-operatives who make quaffing wines for tourists – but a small band of quality-focused producers like Chateau Thenac and Chateau Tour des Gendres are trying to change this.

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Just to the north of Bergerac, two subzone appellations, Rosette and Pecharmant, produce excellent wines which are largely drunk in situ and rarely appear in the UK. Rosette’s amphitheatre of vines is particularly attractive, with delightfully fragrant sweet whites, whilst Pecharmant makes rich oaky reds from its iron-rich soils.
Monbazillac to the south of Bergerac is Dordogne’s jewel in the crown.

Its favourable situation to the east of where the Gardonette tributary runs into the larger, faster-flowing Dordogne provides the same conditions as in Sauternes and Barsac. Morning mists and hot baked sunny afternoons encourage the growth of botrytis cinerea, or noble rot.

Soils here differ from Bordeaux sweet wine areas, with more limestone and marl instead of Sauternes’ gravelly mounds. The climate is warmer too, so Monbazillac tends to produce sweeter styles than Sauternes, with less acidity and refinement. Since the mid-1980s Monbazillac has improved in quality and has officially become the best appellation in Dordogne.

Next door is tiny Saussignac cru with just a few thousand cases of sweet wine, an appellation brought to prominence by enterprising wine grower and British author Patricia Atkinson – who has since retired and sold her vineyards – but plummy merlot-based Clos d’Yvigne red is available in Marks & Spencer (£12.49).
Two other wine appellations you might encounter here are Montravel, where you can now find good, fleshy merlot-based reds like those of neighbouring Côtes de Castillon and St Emilion satellites to the west, and Côtes de Duras, where they grow similar grapes and make similar styles to Bergerac.

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Dry white

Bergerac: Bergerac Grande Reserve Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2014 - STAR BUY
Alcohol 12 per cent
Easy, approachable, dry white with a hint of green fruits, creamy soft palate with a honeyed undertone. Very acceptable at this price for an easy-going aperitif style.
£7, Sainsbury’s

Bergerac Fleur De Thenac 2013 Chateau Thenac
Alcohol 13 per cent
Honeyed nose with floral undertones, refreshingly dry, well-made sauvignon blanc/semillon blend; with a high alcohol level which is certainly not obvious on the palate.
£11.95, Berry Bros & Rudd

Red

Bergerac: La Chandelle Merlot 2014
Alcohol 12 per cent
Bearing in mind the price, this is as good as any supermarket claret. It’s a soft, juicy and smooth merlot with rich, ripe plummy fruit and a moderate alcohol level.
£5.99, Waitrose

Bergerac: Chateau Tour Des Gendres 2014
Alcohol 12.5 per cent
Just a shade more complexity here than with Waitrose’s La Chandelle (above). Tour des Gendres is a well-run chateau making a very acceptable merlot and malbec blend; a typical example of Bergerac’s brisk, crunchy reds with their plummy fruits and soft structure.
£7.95, The Wine Society

Sweet white

Monbazillac: Monbazillac, Les Pins 2012 Chateau Tirecul La Graviere - STAR BUY
Alcohol 12 per cent
The clear winner in our Dordogne tasting: deep burnished gold colour, toffee and nut aromas, rich honeyed sweetness with caramel hints, mature but still fresh and vibrant. Very good.
£12.99 for 50cl bt, Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh

Monbazillac: Monbazillac 2014 Domaine du Haut Rauly
Alcohol 13 per cent
With youthful citric fruits, this is a fresh, vibrant, sweet, cheap alternative to Sauternes.
£6.99 for 37.5cl bt, Co-op

Monbazillac: Monbazillac 2011 Chateau Pech la Calevie
Alcohol 13 per cent
This starts with liquorice aromas and odd sherbet undertones, but improves on the palate with minerally hints and an interesting mellow roundness. ■
£11.95 for 75cl bt, The Wine Society

• Rose’s South West France Wine & Charcuterie Tasting is at Abode Hotel, Glasgow, 26 May, £40, rosemurraybrown.com

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Rose Murray Brown is one of only 323 Masters of Wine worldwide and is the only one to host wine courses and regular wine tastings in Scotland.

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