So we made it through the darkest month so it must be time to think about warmer days. For various reasons I have visited France more than any other country and those trips have inspired this week’s column, writes Leslie Williams.
In the mid-1990s on my first visit to a wine region I spent a week in thevillage of St Estephe in the Médoc and I do recommend that one time in your life you drive up the D2 from Bordeaux to St Estephe passing through the villages of Margaux, St Julien and Pauillac.
However, the second week of that holiday was spent in Gascony. That lingers far longer in my memory. The drive to Gascony from Bordeaux takes you through the village of Barsac and right there in the town square is the Maison des Vins — the appellation’s promotion board.
Gascony is the home of Confit de Canard, foie gras, Armagnac brandy, dense rich Madiran reds made from the tannat grape (montus, bouscassé), and crisp floral whites. I recommend three Gascogne whites below which I consider the perfect springtime wines — light, fresh and subtle and a reminder of the warmer days to come. I realise foie gras is controversial but if you like it you won’t find better than from the small freerange farms in the Gers Dept — it is the perfect match for Barsac or the local Gascogne dessert wine Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.
There are lots of overlooked appellations in the south west such asGaillac, Marmandais, Buzet and Jurancon — all worth a visit. You can then head south to the Basque country or go east toward Agen (for the prunes) and on to the pretty town of Cahors. The Malbec here has a wilder more rustic edge than the Argentinian version we all love so well but some of the better producers here can rival anything in the south- west, even Bordeaux.
My other two wine suggestions are not places I have visited on holidays but on wine trips — the best wines of the southern Rhone always makes me think of warm days as do the wines of Provence, Languedoc and Roussillon. The formula is simple — grenache tempered with some syrah and mourvèdre or maybe some old vine cinsault or carignan — go warm yourself up.
1. Connoisseur l’Eternelle Fidele 2016, Gascony, France — €14.99
Stockists: Searsons, La Touche Greystones, Independents
Based in the Bas Armagnac region these grapes would once have been used for Armagnac.
This has a distinct lime essence aromas and a pleasing herbal character as well as the usual peach, flower and citrus touches.
Zingy and fresh on the palate with lingering lime and lemongrass touches — should be an interesting match for Thai food.
2. Domaine de Ménard Cuvée Marine, Gascony, France — €12.99
Stockists: Bradleys, Le Caveau, Baggot St Wines, Green Man wines, McGuinness Wines
A blend of 60% Colombard with some Sauvignon Blanc and Gros Mansang this is packed with ripe peach aromas mixed with lemon peel and citrus, along with some pleasing floral notes.
Crisp and fresh with a lingering tang of citrus and a perfect foil for shellfish or even fish and chips.
3. Domaine Uby Côtes de Gascogne 2016, France — €13.99
Stockists: 1601 Kinsale, Bradleys, World Wide Wines, Cashel Wines, Gibneys, Fallon & Byrne
Uby hasn’t appeared in this column for years but it is still excellent and a perfect springtime wine.
Colombard and Ugni Blanc blend with stone fruit, floral citrus aromas, especially grapefruit, and a lively refreshing palate.
Drinking this reminds me of the hazy September sunshine of Gascony.
1. Château du Cèdre 2014 Cahors, France — €23.99
Stockists: Bradleys, Greenman, Le Caveau www.lecaveau.ie
I’m a fan of this producer who makes concentrated but elegant wines his top Cuvée GC is stunningly good and would match many a second growth Bordeaux while this is a match for almost any Cru Bourgeois.
Prune, plum and cherry fruits with more blackcurrants coming through on the finish — ripe and concentrated and will improve with age.
2. Les Voiles de Paulines Collioure 2015, Provence, France — €19
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
This rarely seen dry red from Banyuls/Roussillon was a highlight of the M&S tasting last autumn, fruity, ripe and fleshy with soft juicy and slightly spicy Grenache to the fore plus a little prune and chocolate character from the 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre. Textured, supple and very tasty —
sure to make you think of the warm south.
3. Gigondas Domaine la Bouïssière 2015, Rhone, France — €33
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, Donnybrook Fair, On the Grapevine, La Touche, Baggot St Wines, Searsons Monkstown
The family-run Domaine de la Bouïssière was founded in the 1950s.
From grapes grown at 300m this is dense and full flavoured with spicy tones, plums and blackberries with herbal notes and lingering spice hints.
All the big warm charm of the best Châteauneuf-du-Pape for a lot less money.