First published in The Irish Times September 16th, 2017
We move from Bordeaux priced at €35-€120 last week to four wines each costing less than €16. The two seem worlds apart, yet the distance from Château Petrus (average price €2,400 a bottle) in Bordeaux, to the Château le Payral is less than 50km. Bergerac will be familiar to many from summer holidays but how many of us know the wines? This small region, seemingly permanently in the shadow of its better-known neighbour, Bordeaux, is responsible for some of the best value wines in France.
The two regions share the same grape varieties and the climate is broadly similar; Bergerac is a little more continental, warmer in summer and colder in winter. Grapes ripen a week to 10 days later than in Bordeaux. As is often the case, the French wine authorities don’t make life easy for wine lovers, with 13 appellations for the region. Today we will stick to Bergerac and Bergerac Sec for the white wines.
The red wines are made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. For the dry whites (as well as sweet wines, in which the area excels) there is Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. The use of a little Sémillon and/or Muscadelle can add an extra dimension to Sauvignon Blanc; lovers of Sauvignon from the Loire, Chile and New Zealand should certainly give these wines a try.
Many of the cheaper red wines are similar in style to their counterparts in Bordeaux, and not in a good way. Light, scrawny and a little green, these are not wines to set a wine-lover’s pulse racing, and could explain why few Irish wine companies import from Bergerac. Possibly the large number of less discerning tourists visiting the region allows average producers to survive. However, there is a small group of more ambitious producers who offer some outstanding wines at prices that are very reasonable.
Two properties stand out as being special: Clos des Verdots, once imported by Superquinn but sadly no longer available, and Château Tour des Gendres, whose wines have featured on these pages many times. Both entry-level wines, red and white – €15.15 from Le Caveau and independents – are outstanding. There are plenty of other small producers trying hard to make good wine.
Recently, two importers sent me samples from their Bergerac producers. All four wines were excellent and three come in at just over €15 a bottle. Not everyday wines, but they won’t break the bank either. The reds are easy, fruity and fluid, perfect with lighter meat dishes. The whites are textured and refreshing at the same time, great as an aperitif or with seafood salads and chicken.
Ch. Le Payral 2016, Bergerac Sec (Organic), 12%, €15.50
Floral and perfumed, filled with beautiful fresh, waxy green fruit with a crisp finish. Even better an hour later. A Sauvignon, Sémillon, Muscadelle blend. Stockists: Clontarf Wines; Green Man Wines; 64 Wines
Ch. Le Payral 2016, Bergerac (Organic), 13.5%, €15.50
Just-ripe dark crunchy blackcurrants, a nice seam of acidity, light tannins, decent length. I love it; great price, too.
Stockists: Clontarf Wines; Green Man Wines; 64 Wines
Ch. des Eyssards 2014 Cuvée Prestige,Bergerac, 14%, €15.50
Medium to full-bodied with warm ripe dark fruits edged with a sprinkle of spice.
Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar and Arnotts, Dublin