The world in general has become so obsessed with the "ultimate" object or activity of whatever nature that straightfowardly honest produce does not seem to get much of a look in, at least in medias. Everybody wants the exceptional all the time and, in the words of JB (alias RP), wines just have to be "fruit bombs" or contains "gobfuls" of whatever is in fashion that year, or at least be "the greatest" of whatever category is concerned.
Yet if one drinks wine regularly, as I expect most readers of this blog do, we need variety in the levels of intensity and the sensations we receive from wines. No more would I want to be drinking wines that amaze me all the time than wines that make me feel that I have had an oak tisane or a dry port (ie with too much oak or alcohol). I therefore put in a plea for good "simple" wines, that just give pleasure in a straightfoward way.
During the course of this summer I have had a few of these, and indeed I visited an estate in the South-West of France that produces a range of them. This domain lies in the Duras appellation, which borders on the eastern extremity of Bordeaux’s Entre-Deux-Mers region. The area is very attractively hilly, alternating woodlands and various crops which include tha occasional vineyard. It is Aquitaine but it could be Gascony, and we are far from the oceans of vines that banalise some wine regions. Wine production just seems to be a normal part of everyday life, no more and no less.
The estate that I visited, which is modest (13 hectares with another 5 just planted) is called La Petite Bertrande, but the wines are now under the label Dame Bertrande. I suppose we all age after all, and this lady seems to be no exception. Maybe also her production has come of age?
The property was bought in 1995 by Alain Tingaud, who works in the field of "high-tech" and is also a rugby connnoisseur, fan and President of the Agen rugby club. After experimenting with various ways of managing a wine estate, he confided the running of estate to his son Brice in 2009, and this seems to have transformed the quality of the wines, with a clear direction towards less intervention and a purer style in all the wines that I tasted.
Tingaud, fils et père (rugby fans, at least French ones, will note that Alain seems to be wearing the colours of my favourite club, the Stade Français!)
The production at Petite Bertrande, from "Bordeaux" varieties, combine dry and sweet whites, reds and a very interesting rosé. These are all wines which retail at very reasonable price levels, all of which are below 10 euros (apart from the odd older vintage), and most of them around 5 to 7 euros. They are all crisp and clean, with very moderate use of oak in some cases (and none at all in others) and a deliciously light balance. I loved the deeply-hued rosé called La Source Oubliée, as it is slightly tannic and perfectly dry, making it the ideal match for barbecued food and drinkable all through the year: in fact the antithesis of all those wishy-washy rosés that tend to flood the market, particularly from Provence.
Other wines in the range show the traces of work in progress and I expect them to get better and better over the coming years as Brice, who has no formal training in wine, finds his marks. He struck me as attentive and sensitive and has made the decision (this will please Michel Smith) to go organic on the whole estate. Walking around the vineyards I was impressed to see how many dense hedgerows separated the plots and how full of birds they were.
The wines are now attractively named with place names from the estate that manage to link somehow to the nature of the wine. The white is called Le Chemin Blanc; one of the reds is called Les Cerisiers and another Les Pruniers, reflecting also a difference in depth of flavours between them. These are wines that can be drunk easily and with pleasure without over-intellectualising about their content. They do not contain any "blockbusters". No doubt some of them will gain in complexity as Brice Tingaud finds his marks, but I for one hope that some of them keep their simply good and accessible style for a long time.
For those interested, here is a link to their web site