The twelve days of Christmas are supposed to signify the period between the birth of Jesus and the eventual arrival in the humble manger of the Magi, the three kings or wise men. As they trudged through the various deserts, I assume they had the odd glass or two to comfort or restore themselves. So in their honour, here are my twelve Bergerac wines of Christmas.
I have picked four reds, four whites, two bubblies and two dessert wines. And while I try to write about wines that I think of as bargains, usually in the two quality ranges of five to ten, and ten to twenty euros, some of these wines are more expensive. Believe me, they are worth it and reinforce my conviction that one can drink in the Bergerac wines as good as almost any in France and usually at a fraction of the prices of the vaunted Bordeaux and Burgundies.
First, the bubblies. I shall be buying half a dozen of the very good Brut from Ch. Lestevenie, where Humphrey Temperley and Sue Miller have established a solid reputation, with their reds and whites regularly winning Hachette awards. At 9 euros a bottle, their fizzy white was called “absolutely delicious” by Eric Asimov, the wine critic of the New York Times. With a splash of creme de cassis, it would seduce a teetotal grandma.
The second comes from Caro and Shaun Feely, at Ch Feely in the Saussignac, where their Rosé Brut at 17 euros beats the pants off most of the pink champers I have tried. It is made in the classic way, and to learn exactly what that means, check out Caro’s own excellent blog, https://chateaufeely.com/how-is-sparkling-wine-made-in-many-ways/. (And her books on her family’s adventures in wine make a splendid christmas gift.)
The four reds I have picked begin with Ch Moulin Caresse in the Montravel, at the western part of the Bergerac. Their Coeur de Roche 2011 was one of the greatest wines I have enjoyed this year. Rich and with a discreet power underpinning its elegance, this is a wine for a special occasion. At 40 euros a bottle, it is not cheap but you really get much more than what you pay for.
The second is Le Vin selon David Fortout at Les Verdots in the far east of our region. This is the very top of his wide range of wines and he makes both red and white, but only in special years. The 2016 is 40 euros but this is a wine you will long remember. He also makes a Grand Vin at a special price of 126 euros for six bottles, and at a blind tasting at my place some of my wine expert friends thought they were drinking a Pape Clément from Pessac-Léognan at more than double the price.
The third bottle is relatively new, at least in the name, Ch Mondazur. A Pécharmant, I knew it first as Chemins de l’Orient, a vineyard developed by two doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres after years working in Afghanistan. It was sold to two great winemakers, Hugh Ryman of Ch de la Jaubertie and Francois-Xavier de St Exupéry of Ch Tiregand. They have now produced something magnificent, and at 19.50 euros it is a very real bargain.
The fourth red is the Cuvée Picata from Ch Poulvère at 19 euros, whose 2018 won a silver medal at the Paris concours and which won a blind tasting at my table in a wine tasting at the Maison des Vins in Bergerac. Made of ninety percent cabernet sauvignon and ten percent Merlot, this is a wine of great depth and finesse that lingers very long in the mouth.
For the whites, I suggest a wine that is made here but is not in the AOC because it is made wholly from a different grape, the chenin, who originally came from the Loire region and is best known for the Vouvray wines. At Ch Briand, Amélie Monfort, (sister of Julien who runs the Julien de Savignac wine stores) and her husband Cedric have taken advantage of our warmer weather to produce a very fine wine indeed called simply CheninX. It is a lovely, charming wine, perfect to accompany oysters, and they only made 2,000 bottles of their 2018. I hope they make many more At 15,50 euros a bottle, it is a real find.
The second one comes from the renowned master of Monbazillacs at Ch Tirecul la Gravière, where Bruno Biliancini also makes dry white wine, and his Cuvée Andrea is completely charming and rather bold. Not many winemakers would dare to use seventy percent Muscadelle grapes in a Bergerac Sec, but Bruno succeeds triumphantly. Perfect to serve with fish or as an apéritif, at 17.50 euros it is a steal. His Cuvée Ulma at 9.50 euros is also very good value.
The third wine is not cheap, at 45 euros, but Anthologia of Ch Tour des Gendres is a legend, an organic wine of marvelous quality and style that can balance and enhance any amount of cream on your fish or lobster, and still linger long and rewardingly in the mouth.
I never tire of drinking Ch de la Jaubertie’s Cuvée Mirabelle, at around 16 euros, depending where you buy it. The 2016 was my favourite but I was awed by what a good wine Hugh Ryman made in the very difficult year of 2017. This is a wholly reliable wine of excellence.
Finally, two dessert wines to round off your meal. If you really want to celebrate, then splash out 90 euros on a bottle of Tirecul la Gravière Cuvée Madame, and know you are drinking something close to perfection, or at least one of the very few wines ever to have been awarded the maximum 100 points by Richard Parker. The cheaper option is the winner of this year’s Monbazillac concours, Ch le Fagé, excellent value at 18 euros.
Or you could try the other dessert wine of the region, the Saussignac, and you will seldom find a better example than the Cuvée Marie-Jeanne from Ch le Payral at 15 euros. The nose is full of peaches, apricots and candied fruits and the mouth rejoices with the sense of generosity and richness. It is a lovely wine that deserves to be much better known.
If you navigate through the twelve days of Christmas with all of these, you will deserve to have hosts of angels, adoring shepherds and a grand religious blessing at the end of it. And you will have enjoyed and shared some of the finest wines this region has to offer.