What’s The Best Wine on a Chain Gang Cycling Tour?
I will always have a soft spot for Chateau du Cedres, an AOC Cahors. We don’t visit the vineyard – or any where near it – but during the eastern parts of our Dordogne cycling tour, Cahors wines are widely available. They are made from the Malbec grape, and have a long and sometimes glittering history.They aren’t a highly sought-after wine, but this was the first time when I found myself able to select a prestigious vineyard from a wide range of a single appellation, and able to choose older, matured vintages. So back in 1997, drinking Chateau du Cedres from 1989 and 1990 was a revelation – a 2** wine in the Guide Hachette.
But we also visit vineyards in Chateauneuf du Pape, in Pauillac, in Chianti, in Montalcino – all with a big name worldwide among wine fans. Of course it’s silly to compare a Brunello di Montalcino with a Rosé from Tavel, a simple white wine from Touraine or a rich Monbazillac dessert wine, but having agreed it’s a stupid idea, let’s do it anyway.
I have a real weakness for dessert wines. I’ll tell you more about them another time, but they rely on climatic conditions to encourage the growth of a fungus which dehydrates the grapes and increases their sugar content. There are variations – that’s why an explanation will have to wait – but most of the dessert wines we encounter are a result of this ‘noble rot’ the botrytis cinerea fungus.
The most famous examples come from Sauternes, including the spectacularly priced Chateau d’Yquem, but other areas specialising in these vins liqoreux include Monbazillac beside the Dordogne, and Coteaux de l’Aubance, Bonnezeaux, Coteaux de Layon, Quarts de Chaume, all in the Loire Valley.
But my favourite comes from none of these established and familiar names. No, my favourite is the dessert wine from Chateau Puy Servain in Haut Montravel, near Ste Foy la Grande in the Dordogne valley.
The owner, Daniel Hecquet, makes a special ‘Supreme’ vintage, deep yellow, almost brown in colour, and an eye-watering 70€ for a half-bottle. It is so, so sweet, but you can really get a sense of how special must be the terroir that produces these grapes, and how skilful the wine maker who can pull off such a stunt.
Any Puy Servain is worth trying, but the Supreme, for me, is a totally knock-out wine. Never mind how many stars it gets in the Hachette, it should be in the Michelin guide – 3*** ‘Worth a journey in itself’.
And here are a couple of photographs of the magician himself, checking out the grapes, and doling out his wonderful wine.