Wine of the Week 39 – more deliciousness from south west France

Saint Mont

Saint Mont vineyards.

Recently I presented a tasting of wines from the south west of France or le Sud-Ouest. I really enjoy showing wines from this disparate region as there is so much variety, so many different appellations, or sub-regions and so many different grape varieties – many not seen anywhere else. I have written about the south west at length before, so rather than bore you again, I will just point you to my earlier articles for background information if you don’t mind – click here and here if you want to read them. The whole place is really a collection of regions rather than a single entity and they all have their different traditions and styles, some of them are well known to wine enthusiasts – such as Cahors and Madiran – while others remain obstinately and strangely obscure.

QS South West France watermark 2015

Wine map of the south west of France – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

I say strangely obscure, because it seems to me that the quality is very good from these parts and that the wines should be more widely known and enjoyed. Sadly though it appears that not many wine merchants agree as the wines are pretty hard to buy, which is a great shame because it means so many wine drinkers are missing out on the pleasures of south west France. All the wines I showed were very good indeed, some of them were spectacularly good and I have chosen one of those as my Wine of the Week – what’s more it is great value for money.

empreinte-blc2011 L’Empreinte de Saint Mont Blanc 
Plaimont Producteurs
A.C. Saint Mont
Plaimont are widely considered to be one of the most dynamic cooperatives in France and certainly all the wines that I have tasted from them have been very good, with this wine being one of the very best. They seem to do 2 things very well at Plaimont, firstly they make excellent wine that people want to drink and secondly they celebrate the local traditional grapes from the 4 regions in which they work, Côtes de Gascogne, Saint Mont, Pacherenc du Vic Bilh and Madiran. These regions are all in the in the Basque country and once formed part of the Kingdom of Navarre, so are steeped in history – indeed the Camino de Santiago goes right through this land on its way to Spain, so has been an area known to travellers for hundreds of years and an 11th century Benedictine monastery still dominates the village of Saint Mont itself.

Intended to be the definitive white from the region, hence the name ‘imprint of Saint Mont’ and the label bears a thumb print, this is a blend of grapes that are indigenous to here, 75% Gros Manseng with 10% Petit Manseng and 15% Petit Courbu. It is all cold fermented in tank to keep it fresh, apart from the Petit Manseng which is barrel fermented in second use barrels, this gives a kiss of roundness and extra complexity without lots of oak taste. This portion of the wine also undergoes lees stirring to develop a richer creamier texture. The rest is aged on the lees for 6 months without stirring, this too gives more complexity.

The colour is bright, appealing and silvery. The nose here is startling, with rich pithy and zesty grapefruit aromas together with some floral and honey and very delicate spice notes. The palate is nicely rich, but with wonderfully vibrant acidity cutting through the fat and balancing it beautifully. Rich grapefruit and apricot dominate together with some spice and the merest touch of creaminess. All in all it is rich, but fresh and balanced too, what’s more it is very drinkable and quite delicious – 91/100 points

Try it with fish, chicken or pork in creamy sauces and it is also superb with Ossau-Iraty, the French Basque sheep cheese and I like it on its own too.

Available in the UK from The Wine Society at £11.50 per bottle.

My Summer Wine Part 1 – Biarritz

So, September has started and the summer is pretty much over. I haven’t written very much on Quentin Sadler’s Wine Page this summer because there has been so much going on. Quite apart from my work teaching people about wine I have visited some amazing wine regions, learnt a huge amount and been planning articles in my head.

However, I thought that I ought to mention a few things I tasted over the summer before you all completely forget about me. Back at the beginning of August I spent a few days in Biarritz for the first time since 1968 – when I was a very small boy. In those days I was more interested in the beach, pretty nice even now, than wine, but I was hugely excited by the local wines this time around.

The lovely old harbour in Biarritz

Biarritz
Biarritz is a splendid coastal town in south-west France that surrounds an old fishing and whaling harbour. I was really won over, it is lovely with a real feeling of grandeur, faded and real about it. Biarritz was put on the map in the 1850s by that fascinating character Emperor Napoleon 111 who bizarrely managed to be both France’s first president and last monarch. He and Empress Eugénie had planned to retire there – although is transpired that the Prussians had other plans – and the house they built still dominates the town as the glamorous Hôtel du Palais – and no, I didn’t stay there. Continue reading

Chacolí: The Wild Wine of Spain

I have written a piece about one of the most interesting wines in the world – Chacolí. Chacoli comes from Spain’s beautiful Basque region and the wines are a really unusual and thrilling style that is perfect with the local shellfish, they are mainly white, although a little red and rosé is made too. You can read the article here

Home Thoughts from Abroad

The Basque Country is a beautiful place and very accessible from the UK. A quick flight to Bilbao is all you need to get to this slightly exotic and half familiar place.

Exotic, because this region is a part of Spain, the country of Picasso, Miro, Granada and Seville. However it is northern Spain, ‘green Spain’ and it is very different from most people’s view of the country which is clouded by direct, or indirect, experience of the costas. San Sebastian is quite grand and has more than a touch of the faded grandeur of Brighton, Eastbourne or Bournemouth. Perhaps, as it faces north and is foreign, Le Touquet or Deauville might be a better comparison?

The bars and coffee are much, much better though and as soon as you get into the narrow little streets of the old part, it is clear that you are in a Spanish city and that any comparison with anywhere else is superficial.

Waking up in San Sebastian was a delight and looking out across La Concha beach, which is right in the centre of the city, I was struck again by how varied Spain was. I know a lot of Spain, but this is very different.

 

La Concha beach

 

 

La Concha beach

 

My first winery visit was in Chacoli and again this was very unlike the Spain I know so well. The vineyards cover the most spectacular rolling hills and the scenery is very green and so unlike the countryside just an hour away to the south.

I will write it up properly another time, but here are some photographs of this extraordinary area. By the way, that path you see is the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago.


Next stop Rioja Alavesa, so keep coming back, there will be more soon…

Pais Vasco here I come

vines growing on the slopes at Txakoli Talai Berri

I have long been fascinated by the Basque Country, how many other places can not only boast about using the oldest European language, but one that is related to no other? Basque is the last remaining pre-Indo-European language in Western Europe.

The Basque people have a vibrant history, a beautiful land, a prosperous present and a rich culture. It is widely considered to be the finest bit of Spain for gastronomy, both for swanky meals and tapas, called pintxos locally. It also produces some of the most thrilling wines in Spain today – which is really saying something as I consider Spain to be one of the most exciting wine producing countries in the world. Continue reading

Pink basque – no stockings

As you know, I love Chacoli – those white wines from the Basque region are so lively, refreshing and delicious.

Well a few years ago Ameztoi created the first rosé Chacoli and it is a lovely, if rare wine. I was fortunate enough to try the 2008 vintage recently and I highly recommend that you beg, steal or buy a bottle – it is splendid summer drinking. Continue reading