My Favourite Lesson

I used to hate History and Geography lessons when I was at school; I could see no point in learning about things that had happened long ago or in places I was never likely to visit.  Of course, as the years passed, I’ve realised how wrong I was and how much history and geography influence so many aspects of the world we live in.

Take wine for example. 

I opened a bottle of Gérard Bertrand’s Saint-Chinian recently (Grape & Grind, £14.25) and my attention was drawn to the date 1877 on the label.  Clearly that wasn’t the vintage but, turning the bottle round, I found the explanation: 1877 was the year that the first railway line opened linking that part of the south of France with Paris.  Suddenly, the market for the local growers expanded enormously although the boom was short-lived as the deadly phylloxera bug was already wreaking havoc among the region’s wines.

Recovery was slow and erratic and it’s only in the last 30 years or so that the wines of the Languedoc (of which Saint-Chinian is part) have moved from being simple cheap quaffers to something more interesting, like Bertrand’s example.  Made from a blend of 2 high quality grapes, Syrah and Mourvedre, both of which thrive in the hot, sunny conditions of the south of France, this is, undoubtedly, a big wine – the label says 15% – but it’s so well balanced that you would never realise how alcoholic it was.  Lovely flavours of blackberries, herbs and a hint of chocolate together with some smokiness from part barrel-ageing make this an attractive rounded wine to drink.  It would pair particularly well with a robust casserole or grilled or roast meat and benefits from decanting to soften the tannins.

If only history and geography had been explained this way while I was at school!

A Happy Return

It’s been a long time – more than 2 years in fact – since I was last able to blog about the Bristol Tasting Circle, a local group of wine enthusiasts and professionals who, until Covid intervened, met monthly, inviting winemakers or independent wine merchants to talk to us and share their wines. 

Happily, we have recently been able to revive the format and our first guests were Tim and Jill North of Hampshire-based Joie de Vin who brought along a selection of interesting bottles from the south of France for us to taste.  Joie de Vin (www.joiedevin.co.uk) focus solely on French wines and seek out artisan growers who make their own wine in small quantities.  All their producers work sustainably, many are organic, some biodynamic and their passion for their products shines through. 

Everyone present had their own favourites but I must mention Domaine Laurens who have a great way with naming: one of their reds translates as ‘like a Sunday under a cherry tree’!

It’s hard to choose just one or two from the bottles we tasted, but a white and a red from the same producer, stood out for me.  Domaine La Toupie is based close to the village of Maury in the foothills of the Pyrennees and uses Macabeu, better known in Spain than France (Viura, the grape of white Rioja, is the same variety), to make a delicious, mouth-filling, tangy, peachy food-friendly white (‘Solo’, £14.95).

La Toupie’s red, Quatuor, (£17.50) is a blend of 4 varieties well-known in this area: Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvedre.  A soft, chunky wine (15% alcohol, but well-balanced, so there’s no alcoholic ‘burn’) with great complexity and flavours of ripe black fruit, cassis and lovely cinnamon spice from the subtle oak ageing.  The 2017 that we tasted, although delicious now, would certainly benefit from a couple more years in bottle.

It’s difficult to convey how good it was to get back to the Tasting Circle after all this time and the wines from Joie de Vin and Tim’s presentation made us all realise just how much we had missed.