First Published Costa News Group, December 2012

CLOS d’YVIGNE

PATRICIA ATKINSON’S DIET OF WINE AND LITERATURE!

At a time of pre-Christmas dieting, I couldn’t resist the above title. Although, as far as I know, this Atkinson diet bears no relation to the Atkins Diet that so  many of us have and tried and failed/succeeded! I’d far rather follow Patricia’s diet of erudite prose and silky, alluring French wines, any time!

Hers is an interesting story. To escape the frenetic pace of a fast-lane life in the UK Patricia and husband took the decision to buy a farmhouse in France, near Bergerac, where much of James’ work could be done via the internet with regular visits back to Blighty. The rural idyll they found, which included a almost incidental few hectares of vines, seemed to be perfect and both set to work making a new life for themselves, restoring the accommodation, the wine making facility and discovering a new hobby – wine making.

I’m not the first to comment that their story, told in Patricia’s first book ‘The Ripening Sun’ (published by Arrow Books, www.randomhouse.co.uk) can be likened to Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’, albeit a vinous version of the same. However, whilst there are similarities, Patricia’s experiences, I think, surpass those of Peter’s. Patricia Atkinson’s debunking to France was at first a matter of re-location, a combination of working holiday and new lifestyle.

But the debilitating illness that her husband contracted not long after the move, causing him to have to return to the UK, left Patricia with the vineyard as her only means of support. In a matter of one or two growing and harvesting seasons she would have to become expert in a business of which she had no knowledge and no experience and in a language for which her schoolgirl French had hardly equipped her!

The trials, tribulations, disasters and sweet successes which are so poignantly described in the book that the reader feels he/she is living them him/herself. And, of course, you can follow the story by buying the book (and its sequel, ‘La Belle Saison’, which, though I haven’t read it yet, I expect to be similarly entertaining). The only thing missing is being able to taste the wine from Clos d?Yvigne.

So when our great pals, Mary and John, gave me the book, having visited the area on holiday and indeed visited the winery and tasted the wines, I felt I needed to investigate further. An e-mail enquiry resulted in a white and red to taste, plus three different vintages of Clos d’Yvigne’s flagship wine when John and Mary made a subsequent visit.

The vast array of super wines in Spain makes it unnecessary to taste wine from other countries. However, as variety is the spice of life and because it’s so stimulating to compare other countries’ wines with those available here in Spain I was really looking forward to our recent dinner party where the wines were going to be tasted.

And I wasn’t disappointed!

Clos d’Yvigne’s Princesse de Cléves is named after the heroine in Madame de La Fayette’s early 17th Century novel, whose purity is reflected in this quality white wine. Made from a blend of Semillon (a French variety which has quietly been responsible for super white wines for hundreds of years, but perhaps now better known, though inaccurately, to 21st Century wine drinkers as an Australian grape),  Moscatel and Sauvignon, it has a fascinating floral nose (Elderflower and Magnolia) with citrus notes, some green leaved herbs and a depth of flavour too.

It’s a dry, clean and refreshing white wine that has a touch of residual sugar along with a dry, quite long lasting finish. There’s depth and complexity in the wine too, coming in part at least for the short time it has spent in oak. We tasted it with moules (it was a French night after all!) with which it coped admirably, as it would also with fish dishes, with or without sauce, and light meats, particularly chicken and turkey.

There is an established order in which to taste wine, so that the palate remains fresh to take on the new flavours. Of course nothing is written in stone and I’ve had several off piste tastings where the tradition is ignored. However, I felt that sticking with the norm would be best for these wines so we started the reds ‘correctly’, with the youngest wine first.

Le Prince 2009, Appelation Bergerac Contrôlée (as are all Clos d’Yvigne wines; AC being similar to the Spanish DO), is a well-rounded, supple, richly fruited wine which, put simply, is a real pleasure to drink. Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the  estate’s oldest vineyards. It’s a tactile wine, with a velvety smoothness and depth coming from the two years it has spent in oak (French, mais oui!).

It’s mellow with no harsh tannin, but with a pleasing acidity, excellent fruit content and 14º abv all of which auger well for ageing. Look for cherry, mostly dark but with lighter elements too, integrated vanilla, a fleeting and yet persistent aroma of bay leaves and just a touch of peppery spice. We all love it!

A vertical tasting is where different vintages of the same wine are tasted against each other. Quality bodegas/chateaux/wineries always keep back some cases of wine from each year so that they can taste them in future as part of their quality control and of course to see how they evolve over time. It helps enormously in assessing the longevity of a certain wine.

We started our vertical tasting with the 2009 vintage of the chateau’s top wine, Le Rouge et Le Noir. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are bedfellows for this wine which has also enjoyed two years in oak barrels. Fruit laden Merlot, red and black cherries, combine perfectly with more brambly, blackcurrant Cabernet Sauvignon.

There’s an earthy, mineral aspect to this wine with maturing tannin and an acidic lick softened by rich fruit (I’m sure 2009 was a good year, the fruit laden Le Prince is from the same vintage) with vanilla and a touch of a new leather upholstered car aromas and just maybe a tweek of cigar box too! Balanced and drinking very well but with time to mature, as indicated by its attributes and the fact that the 2008 is a different animal!

The voluptuous fruit of the 2009 has become more integrated in the earlier 2008 vintage. The wine as a whole retains its richness but is more serious, more subtle, though that’s not to detract from it at all. It’s a wine that is lovely to sip and enjoy with friends but one that will also suit meat dishes – our cassoulet loved it, and vice versa.

The final Clos d’Yvigne wine of the evening was the Le Rouge et Le Noir 2007. At five years of age there’s no sign of this wine becoming tired. It still has good fruit a touch of minerality and some wild mountain herbs on the nose – I find bay leaf again, though I’m  not sure where it’s coming from! Slightly more tannic than the younger versions, this wine is set fair for the dinner table, suiting game and beef dishes for sure and duck, for me, without the influence of a sweet, rich sauce.

In a head to head between the Atkinson and Atkins diet, I know which I’d choose! (Clos d’Yvigne wines are available on-line www.closdyvigne.com, as are both books).

PS If you’re looking for more knowledge about Spanish wines and how to taste them; bodega visits; wine tastings etc – please contact Colin at colin@colinharknessonwine.com and www.colinharknessonwine.com

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