FOR too long, Bergerac has bumped along in the wake of its more illustrious neighbour, Bordeaux, writes Phil Hargreaves.
Now, massive investment and a new generation of often innovative winemakers have put Bergerac back on the map.
The wines cover a whole range of tastes, from dry whites, reds from Montravel and Pécharmant and sweet whites from Saussignac and Monbazillac.
However, don’t underestimate the simple Bergerac appellation which affords some excellent value, from straightforward fruity wines to more expensive oak-aged cuvées.
The grapes used are much the same as in Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and particularly Merlot for the reds and Sauvignon Blanc, a little Sauvignon Gris and Muscadelle and most importantly Sémillon for the whites.
If dry whites are your thing, Bergerac Sec is often fresh and fruity with a balance between the zingy acidity of the Sauvignon and the roundness of the Sémillon.
Montravel whites and more expensive Bergerac cuvées are often rather more complex with a pleasant minerality. Personal taste and accompanying food will often be the key factor in making a choice here.
For a long time, Pécharmant has always been quoted as being the best of the reds produced in Bergerac. Although some excellent reds are indeed produced in this tiny appellation on the north and eastern approaches to the town of Bergerac, there is stern competition from the most recent AOC Montravel Rouge which lies to the far west of the region, close to Castillon, and indeed from the top producers of Côtes de Bergerac.
There are still gutsy Bergeracs to be had at about €5 a bottle but a serious bottle that has seen some oak ageing and a lot of tlc will cost you a bit more.
Sweet Monbazillac used to be the shining star of the Dordogne and after a period of decline in the sixties and seventies, top quality dessert wines are again being produced to rival some of the best Sauternes.
Again, they do vary in richness depending on the aims of the winemaker, the amount of botrytised fruit and of the course the quality of the harvest.
A relative new kid on the block, Saussignac has some of the most stringent AOC regulations and since 2005 the wines have to be fully liquoreux. This area is a real hotbed of organic growing with more and more producers incorporating biodynamic procedures too.
Indeed, the Bergerac region as a whole boasts an increasing number of organic growers. In my guide, 18 per cent of the producers are organic compared to a national average of about one per cent and this rises to an astounding 40 per cent in Saussignac.
I must just mention Rosette. This is nothing to do with rosé and is a tiny appellation north-west of Bergerac with just a handful of producers. It is usually referred to as the driest of the sweet wines, you will not find it in the UK but the best can be quite interesting and just a bit different. Worth seeking out.
A knowledge of recent vintages is also useful when buying wine and without doubt 2005 was quite outstanding across the board. Although 2003 was very hot, there were some excellent wines made though some are now showing signs of age.
Another very good year was 2000 though there won’t be many about now and 2001 was exceptional for sweet whites. The last two years have been quite difficult though the best producers still manage to produce good wines, albeit for earlier drinking.
My guide features some 92 producers over half of which do not export to the UK, so there are some real gems out there just waiting to be discovered and many of them under €5 a bottle.
The Dordogne is a beautiful place in which to live or holiday, the people are charming and the winemakers passionate about producing the best wine from their terroir.
Bergerac is again a force to be reckoned with.
The Wines of Bergerac by Phil Hargreaves published by Highgate Publications, is priced £12.95/€19.50 euros (inc. p&p). Copies can be purchased by contacting Phil on 01964 532746 or email at email@example.com. The official launch of Phil's book in France takes place at the Maison des Vins in Bergerac on Wednesday, September 3, which is open to the public from 10am until noon.