Our wine correspondent Jim Walker chronicled his personal discovery of the Dordogne region of France and how he and a group of friends set out in search of the finest wines of that area, in his last post3. He now concludes the tale of his arduous, self-sacrificing search for and ultimate selection of the holy grail of wines from the Bergerac appellation.
In Part 1 I recounted how Hélène and I along with six friends had congregated in the Dordogne region of France and had set out in search of the finest wines of that area. We had enlisted the services of Dewy Markham, Jr. to aid and abet us in this quest. Dewey had organized a vinous tour de force. We began with an early morning visit to Château Richard. As Dewey noted: “Château Richard belongs to a Brit named Richard Doughty who came to the Bergerac region in 1988 after a career in oil exploration. He purchased a vineyard, modestly renamed it Château Richard and has been making award-winning organic wines.” Unfortunately, ol’ Richard got his wires crossed and forgot all about our appointment. Sylvie, his very surprised administrative assistant filled in admirably and led us on a delicious tasting of Richard’s very well-made wines.
The next winery to be graced with our thirsty presence was Château de Tiregand, a stately chunk of real estate said to have originated in the 13th century. I had tasted a 2009 Pécharment from the winery the year earlier and loved it. We were greeted by François-Xavier de Saint-Exupéry who was nowhere near as imposing as his name (his relative Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote the famous children’s book The Little Prince). François-Xavier first took us on a trek around his family’s considerable property and showed us what appeared to be unkempt vineyards. He explained that his wines were certified organic and hence grass was permitted to grow between every second row of vines. And, because they used no chemical treatment in the vineyard, weeds also grew freely. Then he guided us in a tasting of his extensive stable of very serious wines. It was a truly pleasurable experience.
All this tasting had made us mighty hungry, so Dewey led us to L’Imparfait a most convivial and excellent restaurant in the old quarter of Bergerac. A leisurely two hour lunch fortified us sufficiently to carry on with our search for the best wines of the Bergerac.
So off we went to nearby Vignobles des Verdots where we were affably greeted by David Fourtout, the engaging, entrepreneurial owner. The winery dates from 1903 when it was known as ‘Verdeau’. David’s family has been in the wine business for four generations, originating in Saint-Émilion. Everything about this operation is modern and state of the art. The cavernous concrete cellar unexpectedly has an exposed subterranean stream running through it. David generously took us through an extensive tasting of all of his beautifully made wines. To quibble, most of us found the Vignobles des Verdot wines to be a touch on the tart side. But it was a most memorable visit.
Our final stop with Dewey was Domaine Grande Maison. Situated just outside the village of Monbazillac, the winery specializes in the sweet, botrytis-affected wines by that name and also makes very good whites and reds. It has been around a long, long time as the great house pictured will attest–it was built at the end of the 13th century! In 1608 Henry IV made a gift of the property to a lawyer in Bergerac, Charles de Livardie.
In 1990 the winery was acquired by Thierry Després, variously described as jovial, a fanatic and an individualist, but no one will dispute his passion and ability for wine making, most notably the nectar Monbazillac. He replanted virtually all of the vines on the estate and achieved ‘organic’ status more than 20 years ago, long before it became the popular thing to do. Robert M. Parker, Jr. in his Wine Buyers Guide number 7 rated Domaine Grande Maison a five star winery and one of only four ‘Outstanding’ producers in the south-west of France.
In January, 2012 the Chabrol family, who hail from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, decided they would get into the wine-making business. They desired a top-rated property for sure, but of equally high importance they wanted a large house in which to live. Grande Maison fit the bill perfectly. Together, Benjamin Chabrol and his father Jean-Louis have carried on Thierry Després’ commitment to make the highest possible quality of Bergerac wines. It is Benjamin, who along with two full-time employees, carries on the day-to-day operations of this very special winery.
It would seem that Dewey had saved the best winery for last. We unanimously voted Grande Maison our favourite. While we thoroughly enjoyed all of Benjamin’s white and red wines, it was his sweet Monbazillac that simply blew us away.
Here are my tasting notes for the 2009 Cuvée des Monstres: “Monbazillac simply doesn’t get any better than this. It was crafted from 60 per cent Sémillon, 30 per cent Muscadelle and 10 per cent Sauvignon Blanc from vines 70 to 100 years old. The yield is a ridiculously low 4.5 hl/ha and but 700 bottles were made! It rested in new oak barrels for three years. A clear orange colour with brown tints, this treasure offers up an expressive nose of candied fruits, beeswax, citrus jellies and honey. In the mouth it is powerful, highly concentrated, wonderfully balanced and very long. Simply put, this is a sweet wine treasure not to be missed. It tastes great now and will continue to evolve and will be ideal to drink in about 30 years! It screams out for foie gras, stinky cheese, passion fruit sorbet and strawberry or apricot tarts.”
To sum it all up, there are many, many fine wines to be had from the Bergerac region of France, but none better than those from Grande Maison according to our exhaustive survey. Dewey Markham is a terrific wine tour guide and tells marvellous stories en route between wineries. He is extremely knowledgeable about the wines and wineries of south-western France and is able to gain entry into the most exclusive estates. I highly recommend him, particularly for a Bordeaux experience. And finally, the Dordogne is a fabulous place to visit. You would be thoroughly enchanted by a visit to this magical part of France.
PS: Should you be seeking a really good wine, check out the ones we have available at LCBO.com. Your taste buds will thank you.
A wonderful reminder of our most pleasant visit to Dordogne and its surprisingly good wines. I returned a few years later with a daughter and her now husband in tow, and they got engaged in La Roque!