Despite many years enjoying wine I have never fully explored south-west France; other than Jurançon, which can be a superb source of dry whites but also briliant sweet wines to rival Sauternes (if you don’t believe try and get your hands on a taste of the Cuvée Quintessence from Domaine Cauhapé – it is a breathtaking wine).
Even closer to Sauternes, both geographically and in terms of the varieties grown, are the vineyards of Bergerac. Here there are perhaps familiar names – I certainly know of Monbazillac, Saussignac and the Côtes de Duras in particular – but the domaines are less familiar. This turned out – as I discovered when in the region recently – to be a significant hole in my general wine knowledge, as these regions shouldn’t be considered as mere academic after-thoughts. There are some delicious, great-value wines to be found here.
I was particularly impressed by the elegance of the wines from Château Thenon, but as the tasting notes below indicate, a number of other wines – such as those from Château la Maurigne, above – were just as impressive.
Domaine des Allegrets Côtes de Duras Cuvée Grandpierre 2001: From vines more than 100 years old. A rich, orange-gold hue here. A great botrytis character, with scents of almonds freshened up with citrus zest. Complex, deep, showing lots of noble rot scents. A polished and creamy confidence to it on the palate, with toasted almonds, crème brûlée, toast and vanilla cream. Delicious substance, with a counterbalancing streak of mild bitterness, and a supple, softly balanced feel. A good long grip in the finish too. Very good, and still with plenty of potential. 17.5/20 (July 2012)
Château Tirecul la Gravière Les Pins (Monbazillac) 2006: From 50cl bottle. A rich golden hue here. The nose is a delightful combination of almond paste and hazelnuts with sweet orange elements. The palate starts off with a creamy, mellifluous character, and it shows the rich but balanced texture that fits with these broad, appealing, nutty, praline-like flavours. There is elegance and balance here too though, and great substance. Not bitterness but a fresh, bright and rich sweetness. Impressive. 17/20 (July 2012)
Jules & Marie Villette Les Coteaux de Bernasse (Monbazillac) 2002: From 50cl bottle. This wine has a particularly rich and golden-orange hue. The nose is in keeping with this appearance, displaying notes of orange caramel, baked almond biscuits and a touch of crème brûlée as well. The palate is the same; there is plenty of pithy depth here, the texture around it creamy and weighty, but the acidity is rather subsumed as a result. Notes of baked and caramelised oranges match those elements found on the nose. The finish is long, and does have a bitter streak running through its core to keep some sense of shape and balance though. But overall it lacks a little balance and freshness. 14.5/20 (July 2012)
Château de Thenon Cuvée Prestige (Saussignac) 2001: From a half bottle. An impressive golden hue here. The aromas are suggestive of oranges, with a bitter edge, along with notes of caramel and especially crème brûlée. The palate is rich, with a pithy substance, there are bitter oranges like those on the nose, a lovely substance and firm grip. The flavours of honey and oranges, all long and very fine. Lots of botrytis character here too. A lovely wine, showing elegant maturity and great appeal. Undoubtedly one of my favourites here. 17.5/20 (July 2012)
Château de Thenon Cuvée Adeline (Saussignac) 2001: From a half bottle. A deep, orange-old hue here, clearly richer than the Prestige. The nose is all botrytis, with notes of biscuits, crème brûlée, burnt caramel. The palate has that richer, sweeter density that betrays the presence of a wealth of botrytis and residual sugar here, all presented in a now-mature fashion, with caramelised oranges, hazelnuts and almond paste. Rich, sweet and compact, with a solid midpalate and similar character right through the finish. Very impressive, although I think the more finessed balance of the Prestige makes for a more accessible glassful. 16.5/20 (July 2012)
Château la Maurigne Cuvée Petit Charles (Saussignac) 2003: From 50cl bottle. This has a rich lemon-gold hue in the glass. The nose is suggestive of lemon meringue pie, all citrus vigour with a creamy sense coming in behind, the predominantly lemon fruit nuanced with hints of lime and grapefruit. The palate sings bright and clear, with lemon, mango and orange fruit here. Face cream polish and a sorbet-like intensity to it. Long and delicious. It speaks less of botrytis and more of passerillage than some of the other wines, an effect of the hot and dry vintage perhaps, but despite this different style this is still delicious. 17/20 (July 2012)
Château la Maurigne Cuvée Mon P’tit Arthur (Saussignac) 2007: From 50cl bottle. A rich, golden-amber hue here, this wine clearly displaying plenty of richness; this comes through in aroma as well as colour, the nose loaded with scents of apricot, almond pastry and vanilla cream, along with a more subtle vein of honey-caramel. The palate is, as we might expect, rich and creamy, calling to mind the buttery pastries suggested by the aromatics, oranges and apricots. The texture is rich, and the wine full of vigour and life, and the two are very well integrated. Firm substance underpinned by a good grip and acid backbone,. Delicious. 17/20 (July 2012)
Château Lestevénie (Saussignac) 2007: From 50cl bottle. A fairly rich golden glow in the glass. This has orange zest and almond tuile on the nose, showing here a fresh, rich and deep character, with seams of golden fruit, biscuit and botrytis. The palate is no less characterful, concentrated yet bright, velvety and polished with a lovely nutty complexity, including nuances of pistachio and almond paste swirled in with the creamed orange fruit. Plenty of confidence here. Delicious. 17/20 (July 2012)
Vignerons de Sigoulès Légende (Saussignac) 2009: Stylish packaging but a very heavyweight bottle here. Bottle number 2844 out of 3700. A rich lemon-gold hue, redolent of lemon meringue pie aromatically, showing a fine citrus intensity but also a soft and creamy sense behind it. The fruit has a supple and appealing character, is bright and fresh, and there is indeed a creamy weight to it. The grip comes in the shape of a seam of bitter pith. Nice fruit intensity and presence here. Good, but not inspiring. 15/20 (July 2012)
Château Lardy (Saussignac) 2009: From 50cl bottle. A rich, orange-gold hue here. The nose is vibrant, very evocative, with notes of mango, apricot and orange, all washed down with a citrus cream. This very evocative style comes through on the palate which has a rich substance cut through by vibrant structure, leading into a grippy finish. Very attractive although perhaps not the lovely balance and definition of some cuvées, and a rather straightforward character. 16/20 (July 2012)