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The Good Stuff….
With its close proximity to Bordeaux, wine production in the Dordogne Valley is, like food production, a major speciality. Less famous than its giant neighbour, the wine produced here may be slightly lesser known but it is equally good and gaining rapidly in international recognition. Close to the major hubs of production around Bergerac and Cahors, through to boutique wineries in between, the Dordogne Valley is a smorgasbord choice of premium wines for both the connoisseur or for someone just partial to the good stuff.
With its rich soil and perfect grape growing conditions, the Dordogne summer sun sets off the rapid onset of ripening, nurturing the grapes to harvest. It makes for great wine- a perfect complement to the traditional gourmet produce of the area such as magret de canard or local Quercy lamb.
You will find the major wines of the region on restaurant menus and in bars throughout the valley. They break down roughly into the two major wine growing areas- Bergerac and Cahors. In between are some wines from dynamic boutique vineyards whose reputation for quality surpasses their small size.
In days gone by the Dordogne Valley was full of vineyards scattered all over and almost on a scale of modern Bordeaux. Then in the 1850s with the invention of the steam boat, American aphids (phylloxera) stowed away and arrived in France, decimating the vines throughout the country. The Great French Wine Blight, as it was known, caused absolute carnage to wine production throughout France. In parts of the Dordogne it was largely abandoned and wine growers turned instead to truffle farming and walnut production.
Recently wine growing has been rediscovered with a vengeance and thank the summery heavens because the boutique wineries that have arisen offer some real delights. You can sample, stock up for the holiday or even bring home some local wines by visiting the producers directly.
Small is Beautiful
One such is Coteaux de Glanes. Easily one of the smallest wineries in France they make some outstanding reds here (ohh and their rosé is excellent too). The principal variety is Merlot or the award winning Merlot-Gamay blend. A tiny vineyard of only some 40 hectares, their small batches across the range of red, rosé and white have seen their principle wines garner multiple awards over the years. If you can, visit this winery and discover for yourself the passion of the winemakers when you chat to them whilst tasting their range.
Returning to wine production only recently (with fruity reds and rosés) the vineyards of Roc-Amadour are another example of a boutique winery rekindling their history of cultivation that stems back to Roman times. Look out for these estate labels in a bar/restaurant, market or supermarket in the valley.
Further north and growing in popularity is the small winery Mille et une Pierres. Home to organic wine this vineyard is also a leader in the making of Vin Paillé (straw wine). Following a winemaking tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages the grapes are dried on straw (hence the name). The sweet result can be served as an aperitif or as the perfect accompaniment, paired with Foie gras. The Mille et une Pierres is part of the Vins de Corrèze, awarded with an AOC label in recognition for excellence in wine production. Part of the production is organic.
Look out for all of these boutique beauties in a bar/restaurant, market or supermarket in the valley.
It is of course possible to visit these small wineries and sip their quality range but if you want a bigger sample of the local bounty head to the vineyards around Bergerac, Cahors and Bordeaux.
With over 4000 hectares of vineyards the reds of Cahors are world famous. Cahors is an AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée ) wine producing region, this label ensuring for the consumer the genuine geographical origin of the wine whilst also guaranteeing standards of production.
Come and explore one of the oldest wine producing areas in Europe. The Romans first planted grapes here around 50 B.C., but today the principle wine cultivated is its famous red – comprised principally of the Malbec grape. The result is a dark red (almost black in colour) with a full body taste. There are over 50 wine estates to choose from and you are invited to indulge in a tasting tour. Feel free to ask questions of the winemakers year round- they will be happy to chat to you about their craft (tasting first though!).
Next to the wine growing mecca of Bordeaux lie the vineyards of Bergerac. Centered on the town of Bergerac vines stretch out along the Dordogne river totalling some 14000 hectares. The Bergerac Appellation contains 13 AOC labels for red, white and rosé wines. Known for its great growing climate discover the flavours of Pecharmant and Monbazillac and the many other blended varieties that are exported all over the world. Fine-tune your appreciation and increase your knowledge of this region with a visit to one of the family run chateaux – don’t miss a drop !
Bordeaux - just up the road
Only a 2.5hour journey from the Dordogne Valley if you are serious about wine or just very curious about some of the very best, it’s not that much further to go in order to discover the vineyards of one of the world’s most famous wine growing areas. When heading to Bordeaux make sure you stop in the picturesque town of Saint Emilion - a world heritage UNESCO site. Internationally famous for its contribution to the Bordeaux stable it’s also a pretty village to get distracted in – be it for lunch, supping some of the latest batches or shopping and sending back bottles straight to your door (they will export everywhere). An AOC accredited wine making area, whether sipping Grand Cru or not you will find it hard to tear yourself away, but you must because you should absolutely visit the wine capital of Bordeaux.
La Cité du Vin
A must see is the newly created City of Wine complex in the city of Bordeaux itself. La Cité du Vin is a wine lover’s nirvana, a veritable Disneyland of wine exhibition space- 3000 square metres large. Housed in an ultra-modern building- with twenty spaces dedicated to all aspects of wine, from the history of its production, wine attractions, workshops, exhibition space, wine tour information and of course wine tasting! They cater to an international English speaking audience too, with many workshops and wine tastings in English.
After a visit to the City of wine, you can always find out more by hitting the country roads that lead to the world famous wineries themselves. Pull up to a chateau and taste first hand the harvest that has been grown here since Roman times, for almost 2000 years.
Good to Know
If you are stuck for something to pop open for an aperitif or a digestive- try some of the local specialities of the Dordogne Valley. Vin de Noix – a walnut based aperitif, often artisanal, made by picking the walnuts with their green shell cut in quarters and left to marinate in alcohol.
After your meal if you still have the stamina try some Vieille Prune. Sold in only the best restaurants throughout France, this local high end delicacy is handmade right here in the Dordogne Valley at the distillery of Louis Roque in Souillac. Three generations have passed on the secrets of bringing this digestive to life and a visit to the distillery itself is a fun learning experience as you discover the unique history of its production but also free sampling of the end result! Watch out it’s a taste sensation and one that will put hairs on your chest !