Winewyse Press Articles

A Rare Cognac from the Perigord

Richard Esling - Monday, February 10, 2020
A Rare Cognac from the Perigord

The natural region of Périgord, once a French province, now roughly equates to the Department of the Dordogne, much loved by Brits for many years and the majority of which belonged to the English crown back in the Middle Ages. Sadly lost to England at the end of the 100 years’ war at the battle of Castillon in 1453, it is currently a prime destination for both tourists and those seeking to settle permanently in France, despite the current political turmoil. 

The small village of Saint Aulaye, although situated in Périgord, in the very north of the large Dordogne Department, was included in the Cognac Appellation Controlée area since its creation in 1909. In 1999, the very forward-thinking Mayor of Saint Aulaye decided to plant vines on the communal land of the village, in order to produce Cognac and preserve the appellation in this region. Two and a half acres of Colombard vines were planted at the foot of the fortified village, a grape variety more associated with Armagnac, but also planted in small amounts for Cognac. In 2000, a further acre and a half was planted. 

The base wine is made by a local co-operative and the village council, under the leadership of the Mayor Yannick Lagrenaudie, decided to seek a partnership with a well-known Cognac house which was interested in an atypical project - production of a Cognac from council owned vines, aged in barrels of oak from the local ‘Double’ forest. In 2014, the project came to fruition. From that vintage onwards, the locally produced base wines have been distilled by the globally reputed Maison Camus and the spirit aged in barrels in the cellar of the village chateau and Town Hall, directly beneath the Mayor’s office. 

On my visit to Saint Aulaye, I tasted the 2015 Cognac de Saint Aulaye. The spirit was aged in barrels originally containing sweet Monbazillac wine from Chateau Tirecul La Gravière. These barrels reinforce the aromatic complexity of the Cognac, giving further definition to a rare product from a local area. 

The light amber colour of Cognac Saint Aulaye derives exclusively from the Monbazillac oak barrels, with no addition of caramel colouring, so often used in commercial Cognac production. The Cognac is light, elegant and refined, with aromas and flavours of honey, orange peel, vanilla and butterscotch. Fabulously individual and characterful and very different to the majority of commercial cognacs from the large producers, this is a very special product, though sadly only made in very small quantities - approximately 600 to 800 bottles per year, depending on the vintage. 

Plans are in place to expand the vineyards and hence volume of Cognac production. With a product of such high quality, individuality and character, the future of Cognac from the Dordogne looks promising. Not available for purchase in the UK, a visit to Saint Aulaye beckons. Yet another reason to explore the ‘Sussex of South-west France’!

Discover the Vineyards of the Dordogne Valley

Richard Esling - Monday, February 03, 2020
Discover the Vineyards of the Dordogne Valley

Discover the Vineyards of the Dordogne Valley     Etc Magazine February 2020

With the still, cold, grey of winter lingering with us, admittedly interspersed with the odd glimmer of sunshine, our thoughts in January and February inevitably turn to Spring and Summer Holidays. The Dordogne region in south-west France, has been a popular destination with us Brits for a long time, due to its gently undulating terrain, glorious peaceful green countryside and agreeable climate. A little like Sussex, only warmer! But few travel to the region simply for the wines, partly since they are often eclipsed by those from the adjoining region of Bordeaux.

A grave error of judgement, since the Dordogne Valley produces a fabulous range of wines, whose quality has improved massively over the past thirty years and now represent some remarkably good value for money in comparison to their nearby peers. New generations of winemakers, many of whom have travelled and worked in wine-producing countries across the world, are bringing modern wine-making techniques to the area, producing appealing and vibrant wines, very much in tune with current consumer demands.

Gone are the days of the thin, acidic, oxidised dry whites and heavy, tannic reds. The dry white wines are fruity, characterful and well-balanced, often with appealing varietal aromas from the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grape varieties, from which they are made. The reds are soft, supple and appealing, with juicy red and black fruit flavours, often with subtlety and elegance. Made principally from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties, as in Bordeaux, they have a character of their own due to the inland climate and differences in terroir.

There are in fact seventeen Appellations in the Dordogne, each different from the other and spanning the range of dry white, sweet white, rosé, red and even sparkling. A great place to start exploring the Dordogne wine region, is the Maison des Vins in Bergerac. Recently completely refurbished, it occupies a group of 17th Century monastic buildings, overlooking the majestic river Dordogne  and complete with cloisters, perfect for paying homage to the region’s wines with a tasting or two.

The Wine Centre of Bergerac is an unmissable destination in itself, with its permanent exhibitions charting the development of the vineyards from Roman times, a ‘vinothéque’ with a large number of wines available for purchase or tasting from all the appellations of the area. Complemented by an outdoor terrace with views of the old town of Bergerac and the river, the introduction to the wines of Dordogne is achieved with style, a glass of local wine in hand.

Visiting the regions vineyards, cellars and wineries, meeting the people working there and discovering their secrets, is a fabulous experience which can only enhance any trip to the region. Many of the 800 producers welcome visitors and offer tastings of their wines. Some sub-regions are dedicated to producing a particular style of wine, such as Monbazillac, the largest sweet wine producing region in the world. The tiny area of Saussignac also is dedicated to sweet white wine, whilst Pécharmant is only for red wines, which are bold and powerful.

The Dordogne Valley is a wonderful region of France for a holiday, with its old market towns, great rivers, fabulous food, hundreds of chateaux and many cultural and family attractions. One further attribute to add to the list of reasons to visit, is to discover the wealth of wines produced, which are accessible, enjoyable and affordable.