Readers who have visited Dordogne won’t need me to tell them of its beauty and charm, but those who have yet to make its acquaintance really should do something about it! We’ve just returned from four weeks in France, the first two in Charent, the last fortnight near Bergerac – and we are looking forward to our next visit!
There’s another reason too! Resting geographically in the shadow of their illustrious wine neighbours in Bordeaux the wines of Bergerac are oft overlooked. They shouldn’t be, there is real quality there, and at reasonable prices too. Plus, many of the chateaux are architecturally stunning and steeped in history.
One such winery, Château Bélingard, picked randomly out of the internet hat, from a host of other châteaux, was all of the above – and more! (www.belingard.com/en)
The antique property, whose winery has, for the last who hundred years, been owned and run by the same family, also has a rather sinister history – told to us by our charming, knowledgeable guide, Anaïs. The grandfather of the current incumbent discovered a previously obscured ancient rough-hewn stone seat, following the felling of a huge tree by a lightening strike.
Expert archaeologists were called in and determined that the small but imposing crude seat was Celtic, from the 5th Century, used by druids for human sacrifice! I won’t go into details, suffice to say that we needed a drink afterwards! And, of course we were in the right place!
Château Bélingard (the name is derived from Celtic) is set in beautiful grounds which we briefly toured, looking also, of course, at the installations where the wine is made. 60% of the annual produce is exported, with the remainder being sold in France, mostly locally, including to a long list of restaurants and hotels. NB you can buy online!
Fermentation uses a combination of natural and cultured yeasts, taking place in stainless steel tanks, cement or oak, depending on the style of wine required, and the regulations of the AOCs with which they work. The winery sits comfortably within three different appellations: the generic AOC Bergerac, AOC Cotes de Bergerac, and AOC Monbazillac. Chateau Belingard therefore crafts, red wine, white wine and dessert white wine (this for the latter AOC, of course, whose richness comes from the botrytis fungus, or noble rot).
After the informative and entertaining tour, we were shown into the atmospheric tasting room, just outside the cellar in which all the wine-filled barrels are left in peace, to age the wine before its release. I love these cellars, wherever they may be situated – they all have that heady fragrance of maturing wine and oak!
Tasting tables were set up for the small groups who had reserved independently for the tour in English. Each table was asked which four of the wines listed we would like to taste. Generous, I thought as the tour was gratis. In fact our guide acquiesced when asked by one or two of us if we could just taste one or two more! I hope the result was that sales were good – an outlay is needed for such tours, and the hope is that visitors will buy, but it’s not obligatory, of course, so there will be times when the tour becomes a loss-leader. We bought, but it wasn’t just altruism inspired, we loved the wine!
My favourite of the six we tasted was in fact the Château Bélingard Reserve 2015 white wine, made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon fermented and aged in oak barrels, 50% new and 50% one year old. The balance between fresh fruit and oak is perfectly judged, exemplary in fact! There’s an understated creaminess from its lees aging, with a little butter coming through the green and yellow fruit notes as well. A lovely dry white wine to grace any dinner table!
I enjoyed the reds too, though for my palate the Ortus de Château Bélingard 2015, flagship of the estate, whilst showing great potential, was still a little green, with lively tannin and needing more time to develop. That’s why we bought some, not to drink on arrival back in Spain, but to ‘cellar’ – with my writing clearly on the back labels the year when we will try them again – 2020 and and again from 2023+!
Violet flowers on the nose with dark fruits of the forest too, made with 65% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Malbec, three of the four permitted varieties here for red wine (Cabernet Franc being the fourth). 18 months in oak with three monthly racking.
Also from the AOC Cotes de Bergerac the Château Bélingard Reserve 2015 was ready to drink, with aging potential as well. Mature tannin on the palate with blackcurrant and damsons on the nose and in flavour, it’s made with a 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with 13 months in oak. Had we had more money left at this, the end of our holiday, we would have bought some too!
The Monbazillac dessert wines, were both remarkable, but in different ways. My favourite, the one we bought, was the Ortus de Château Bélingard 2015, but it was a very close-run thing, with the 2002 version (though with a very slightly different make-up). Both wines, made with Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle, though different percentages, are fermented and aged in oak, the latter for 20 months!
If you need convincing about the value of ending a dinner with a dessert wine – these two will be happy to oblige! Bitter oranges, fruit cake mix, a little desiccated toasted coconut, clementine zest, candied fruit, Oloroso sherry – between these two examples you have it all! Fantastic!
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