I live in Surrey, which must be a hot contender as the middle, the very epicentre, of middle
And if there’s one thing guaranteed to get under the skin of middle Englanders,
it has to be the EU. We are as the
hobbits of the Shire and England
is Mordor – somewhere we would never choose to go and view with deep loathing
and suspicion. Brussels
However, I like to think of myself as a forward-looking and easy-going pro-European type, not prone to casual Brussels-bashing. And yet I do have a beef with
on behalf of
British wine drinkers – and French wine producers. Brussels
Let me explain. Back in the 1970s, a time when I was innocent of all things winey, and more intent on deciding whether to swap my Blasé perfume sample for a Miner’s metallic green eyeshadow with my friend Tammy (I did, but am still not sure if it was a good move), a new French wine category emerged: Vin de Pays.
Fast forward to the late 1980s and I, along with many
drinkers had taken to Vin de
Pays like ducks to water. At about the
same time that Australian wines arrived here, brashly brandishing their varietal
labelling, Vin de Pays did the same for French wines – Chardonnay Vin de Pays
d’Oc gives you a good idea of what to expect in the bottle and provides a
general indication of where the wine is from – in this case anywhere in that
vast swathe of southern France known as Languedoc-Roussillon. And it is easy to say, a factor whose
importance shouldn’t be overlooked. Vin
de Pays and especially Vin de Pays d’Oc, which accounted for around 85% of all
Vin de Pays, came to make up almost 10% of the UK wine market – a success in
anyone’s book. UK
But then, in 2009 along came an EU project to standardise and harmonise wine regulations across all countries. On the positive side, this resulted in the creation of a new category, “Vin de France”, which allows wines to be sold which are multi-region blends and which can be made of any variety you care to think of. This kind of wine is commonplace in the New World – any Australian wine that is labelled as coming from “
Australia” for example.
However, this harmonisation has also left the Vin de Pays category a bit of a dog’s dinner. That user-friendly term was to be replaced by Indication Géographique Protégée, or IGP – also sometimes “anglicised” to PGI. Consumers have had to get used to a name that is either a bit of mouthful to say, or an unmemorable 3-letter abbreviation – either way, a definite marketing disadvantage compared to what had gone before. The EU has since “clarified” that the Vin de Pays wording can still be used, in parallel with the new IGP/PGI, leaving us with a situation where some producers have abandoned Vin de Pays and jumped ship to IGP, others have stuck steadfastly to the old labelling – and everything in between, including the use of Pays d’Oc without the Vin. Confusion rather than harmonisation reigns.
The idea is that IGP should be used uniformly across the EU for the same category of wine, replacing the different terms that existed before, such as IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) in
or Viño de la Tierra in . It may not surprise you to know that Italian
producers have largely ignored the new, harmonised, regulations and are still
labelling their bottles IGT rather than IGP.
Plus ça change, as Delboy would doubtless have said. Spain
Some Vins de Pays, sorry IGP Pays d’Oc wines, to seek out:
Paul Mas Vermentino 2011 - £7.99, or £5.24 if you buy two at Majestic
Jean-Claude Mas of Domaines Paul Mas is a powerhouse of well-made and original wines from across the
. Vermentino may not be a familiar grape
variety – it is mostly seen in wines from Sardinia and elsewhere in Languedoc . However, it also goes by the name Rolle in Italy and is
responsible for the famous white wines of Cassis (now there’s a confusing name
for a white wine). This is a great easy-drinking wine with structure as well as
freshness, making it a versatile food match.
At the promotional price it’s sensational value. Provence
Mas des Dames Blanc 2011 - £12.95 from Roberson
Grenache Blanc is widely grown in the Southern Rhône and across the
, but is mostly
added to give weight and alcohol to a blend.
Here it takes centre stage and, given careful treatment including low
yields from vines grown in limestone-rich soil and six months in old oak
barrels it makes for an original-tasting winter weight white. The aromas of buttery pear and pear skin lead
onto a weighty yet balanced mouthful with a finish of white pepper. It’s also certified
Domaine Gayda, Figure Libre Cabernet Franc 2010 – available from various independent merchants, including Oxford Wine Company (£16.99) and Leon Stolarski (£14.95)
The price of this wine tells you that the IGP/PGI category, whatever its faults, is certainly no barrier to ambitious wine-making. Cabernet Franc is another largely unsung variety that is usually subsumed into a blend with more assertive partners. Allowed to show its true colours, it sings (to mix my metaphors): black olive, violets and black fruit with a dash of bitters make for a cornucopia of ripe and slightly wild flavours – yet it retains freshness and great drinkability.
If this wine knocks your socks off, there are more wines to explore from Domaine Gayda, whose name, to the English ear, suggests an appeal to the pink pound demographic. Their Chemin de Moscou 2010 is a more typical southern blend of mostly Syrah plus a dash of Grenache and Cinsault, which you can pick up for £19.99 from Leon Stolarski or £22 from Highbury Vintners.