North of the Border

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Next time you visit Toulouse to see how they’re getting along with your custom-built Airbus, rent a car for the day and drive down the A61 or the A64 for a few miles.

You’ll very soon find yourself in the Comté Tolosan, a massive wine-growing region that covers the whole of South-Western France and reaches down to the Spanish border. They produce more than five million gallons of wine every year there using the usual well-known grape varieties but also many local ones. You might never have heard of Gros Manseng, Loin de l’Oeil, Duras, Fer Servadou or Négrette but they all hang out in Comté Tolosan and almost nowhere else in the world.

Sainte-Eulalie de Cruzy. (Photo: Francois Werth)Sainte-Eulalie de Cruzy.

(Photo: Francois Werth)

Between 2006 and 2012 the French revised their system of wine classification. If this is news to you, please sit up and listen carefully because I shall not say it again. In a nutshell, the result was that wines previously classed simply as Vin de Pays (“country wines”) also had to show the rather more prosaic classification of Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP) on their labels. The rock-bottom category of Vin de Table (which hardly needs translation) has been changed to Vin de France. The top designation, which used to be Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) is now being replaced by Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP). In 2012, the old middle classification of Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS) was unceremoniously chucked out altogether.

Both today’s wines hail from the strangely-named Domaine Montplo which lies to the east of Comté Tolosan in the region known as l’Hérault (lair-OH).

Cuvée Montplo 2011, Comté Tolosan IGP (white), France (Bt. 399 @ Wine Connection)

At first sniff, the wine smells vaguely like a Chardonnay but it’s actually a blend of Colombard and Ugni Blanc. You may be unfamiliar with Ugni Blanc, but it hails from Italy, where it’s known by the more familiar name of Trebbiano.

This wine is pale yellow with hints of green and it has a lovely floral aroma of pineapple, melon, citrus fruits and honey. When the air gets to the wine, you’ll find that both the aroma and taste open up beautifully. Comté Tolosan white wines are known for their aromatic qualities and this one is no exception. It has a soft, seductive and almost creamy mouth-feel, plenty of tropical fruit up-front and hardly any acidity. It’s not quite as dry as the proverbial bone, but it’s dry nonetheless and there’s a touch of pleasing acidity on the long finish. It would work well with seafood but would be perfect with a simple salad. This is a really lovely wine and at only 11.5% alcohol content, I’d be quite happy to drink it on its own all evening.

Domaine Montplo 2011, Pays d’Hérault IGP (red), France (Bt. 399 @ Wine Connection)

The l’Hérault region stretches from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Cévennes Mountains in the north. At its centre lies the ancient town of Béziers, known among other things for the local obsession with bullfighting. Domaine Montplo is tucked away in Cruzy, a small wine village about thirty minutes’ drive north of Narbonne.

The aroma of this attractive, dark red wine is a bit shy at first. But if you’d been stuck in a bottle for two years, hauled from France to Thailand then dumped in a storeroom for a couple of weeks, you’d probably feel a bit withdrawn too. Eventually, when the wine has had some air contact, you’ll pick up fruity aromas of blackberry, plum, blackcurrant and raspberry. It’s worth waiting for.

The wine has a beautifully soft texture with loads of fruit on the palate. It’s balanced, well-rounded and perfectly dry with a foundation of supple tannins. There’s a very satisfying long, dry finish with just enough tannin to remind you that this is a real French wine, not a Californian crowd-pleaser. It’s made from two local grape varieties, Carignan and Grenache, the second of which also happens to be one of the most widely planted red grapes in the world. At just 12% alcohol content it would make an excellent partner for light meals, especially with cheese.

By the way, both these wines come with a very welcome screw cap (or “Stelvin closure”, if you want to impress your friends). I’ve grappled with so many corks in my time that a screw cap comes as a great relief. Yes, I know it lacks a certain mystique and romance, but there again, so does an Airbus.