Marin Walker’s Wine Notes


This may come as news to many readers but the price of wine is going to rise, not simply because of the rising energy costs that we all face, but because of the Ukraine war. One aspect of this is understandable. Many of the moulds from which wine bottles are made come from Ukraine. Who knew? 

     Prices are up 60 percent since the war began and bottles are running short, especially in unusual sizes like half-bottles and half-litres, which are very important to vineyards with a strong restaurant trade. Ch de Tiregand has been told there will be no new half-litre bottles until harvest time in autumn.

  But the cost of cardboard is also rising sharply, with no obvious explanation why the cartons in which most wines are packed should cost more, except the overall inflationary jump. Coming shortly after the hard frosts of April, which savaged the early growth of wines in much of the wine area (and which really battered St Emilion), this was all deeply depressing.

 It must also have been grim for those of you who are gardeners like me. I lost most of my cherry, pear and apple blossom, and much of my wisteria. But the bad weather seems to be passing. And now the wisteria buds are growing again, my first roses are peeking out and the shady corner is full of the white blossoms of Lily of the Valley. 

     Many of my winemaking friends are smiling again as the brave little buds battle their way back to life. Since four of the past five years were either disappointing or grim for much of the Bergerac, all are hoping for a decent harvest this year and for the kind of quality that allows the vineyards to produce more and more of their high--priced premium wines like the Grand Millesimes of Château de Tiregand in the Pécharmant.

      I was recently lucky enough to have a flight tasting going through the best years of the Millesimes alongside the ordinary Tiregand wines of those years. It was an education to see how much the better wines improved, became more subtle and more complex, releasing layer after layer of flavour that I had not at first expected. 

        The reason that I was privileged was that I had a house guest, the legendary Harvey Steiman and his wife Carol. For decades the managing editor of the phenomenally successful Wine Spectator magazine in the United States, Harvey has been one of the most influential voices in the industry. He was perhaps the first wine writer to recognise the extraordinary quality of the Pinot Noir wines in Oregon on the West Coast, just north of California where he lives. He also was a pioneer in exploring the extraordinary wines that were coming out of Australia and New Zealand in the 1990s.


      Harvey and his wife should have been here in the Spring of 2019, but his wife had to undergo a hip operation, then came Covid. Still, they finally made it and we spent some happy days in the vineyards, in great restaurants like the Vieux Logis in Tremolat and in the Auberge Medieval in Audrix, where I taught Harvey the local custom of making chabrol with the last of his soup. I also enjoyed seeing his slow smile of startled approval as he sniffed at the Piazetta brothers’ Ch des Brandeaux I had persuaded him to try, cheap as it was. (We both share the view of the immortal Montaigne that it would be a mistake only to drink the greatest wines since without trying the others how would we appreciate the best?}

     We had met in San Francisco some years ago when I was on a book tour, pottering around the United States and Canada to promote a new novel, and being asked on college radio stations whether in France we ordered French fries or Freedom fries. Being interviewed by Harvey in San Francisco was entirely different, informative and interesting. It was then that I persuaded him to visit us in the Bergerac and try wines that were new to him, like Pécharmant and Rosette.

     The most extraordinary moment came when we visited Bruno Bilancini of Château Tirecul la Gravière. We had tasted his dry white wines, his reds, and finally came the moment when we began tasting the great Monbazillacs. We began with Le Pin, his second wine in the category (and 10-12 euros) and Harvey reeled back, stunned. Then we began on the great wines, the Cuvée Madame, the only products of the Bergerac that have ever received the maximum 100 points from Robert Parker.

      ‘Like making love on velvet,’ I breathed out, in devout respect.

       ‘While wrapped in silk sheets,’ added his wife, Carol.

       The day went on, a tour of the castle of Monbazillac, still under restoration; tasting the excellent wines of the Monbazillac co-operative whose members voluntarily support the upkeep of the great Renaissance château. Then we visited the Maison des Vins, lunched at l'Imparfait,  to Château Bélingard and Ch de la Jaubertie, whose glorious Cuvée Mirabelle white wine had already seduced us in restaurants.

       I shall write next month of some of the other wines we tried during Harvey’s visit. It is a great pleasure in my life to share my affection and respect for the wines of the Bergerac, in their variety, their differences. And if I can persuade friends like Harvey with a global reputation for their expertise in wine to respond to my enthusiasm, I am more than content. It is like sharing happiness. Santé,


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