When it comes to the wine, I have a similarly topsy turvy time with them. For every sublime white Burgundy that I have pontificated over, I have had a raw and tough Bordeaux; for every cheap and pleasant rustic Syrah/Shiraz, I've had a clunky and bleedin' expensive Chardonnay. The French were trying to fleece me again. What they needed was a bit of the English sense of fair play, of value for money, of getting what you pay for. Step forward Charles & Ruth Simpson of Domaine Sainte Rose and James and Catherine Kingslake of Domaine Begude, two English couples who have not just schlepped on over to the South of France and carved out a new life for themselves, but have taken on the bull of winemaking and grasped the proverbial horns of such with great success.
Charles and Ruth Simpson set up shop in 2002 near Servian, in the Languedoc region of Southern France, famed for its cheap and cheerful plonk. James and Cahtherine Kingslake step foot in Domaine Begude in 2003 in the hills of Limoux, a hop, skip and a jump away from the Rhone Valley. It would have been pretty easy to have just gone with the mould and churned out average wine, living the serene life of Riley, and its to their utmost credit that that is exactly what they haven't gone and done. When you give up great careers and a stable life back in good ol' Blighty, you've got to be sure that you will work hard, to make it work well.
Both of these ex-pat winemaking couples have torn up the rule book of the common-and-garden winery from these parts and have introduced 'New World' methods in their winemaking, making use of the less restrictive laws of production down there.
So, with the sound of 'Les Marseillais' bobbing along in my head, I was invited along to a tasting, with some other people within the company I work for, to enjoy a few sips of their fantastic selection of wines. James and Charles were there to talk us through their wines and the charisma and passion that they both showed were definitely present in their wines. A perfect mish-mash of French 'je nais se quoi' mixed with proper English no nonsense-ness.
My personal favourites from the Begude stable were the 'Etoile' Chardonnay, available at Majestic Wines for £14.99 a bottle (a beautifully creamy, nutty, floral Chardonnay, which makes me remember why I love this grape soooo much), the 'Le Paridis' Viognier, which is soon to be released for Majestic Wine (such a rich, warm peach crumble kind of taste, with a biscuity touch) and 'Le Secret du Sud' Gewurztraminer, available at Waitrose Cellar for £9.99 a bottle (a delicate, floral, lychee infused piece of white wine genius).
The wines which shone for me with the Sainte Rose wines were 'La Nuit Blanche' Rousanne, available soon at Majestic Wines (a perfect balance of freshness, intensity and downright tasty fruit. A perfect creamy pasta wine), the 'La Garrigue' Grenache/Syrah/Mouvedre, available at £8.49 a bottle (a testament to the art of blending; jammy cherry from the Grenache, sweet spice from the Syrah and some sound tannin structure from the Mouvedre, great value) and 'Le Pinacle' Syrah, available at JN Wine Merchants for £15.65 a bottle (a vested interest in this one, as I've chosen it for my wedding red wine. Phenomenal herby nose, with a soft, but complex flavour profile. It just kept on giving me more to talk about with every mouthful.)
It was wines like these that has taught me to throw away all the pre-conceptions of rough-and-ready white and reds, just made for guzzling back with slab of Brie and bits of baguette. A generous evening was had by all; not exactly allowing me to forgive the de-facto Toilet Taxman from all those years gone by, it did make me see that some things from France are definitely worth paying for.