Bastille Day: an opportunity to arm yourself with a bottle in celebration of the revolutionary fraternity of that horny-handed son of the terroir, the French vigneron. The Gironde was once the breeding ground of the counter-revolution and the Bordeaux château remains today a symbol of capitalist enterprise. The French co-operative movement in contrast bands together groups of like-minded individuals with small vineyard parcels. On their own, they are powerless; together, they’ve manned the barricades of winemaking and stormed new frontiers of marketing.
Throughout France, there are co-operatives, which, if not exactly sans-culottes strongholds, do an excellent job of producing quality wines. Consider the Cave de Prissé and Cave de Chablis at opposite geographical poles of Burgundy. Prissé’s basic Mâcon in its 2011 Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Mâcon-Villages, £6.99, Sainsbury’s, is a spritz-fresh, peachy chardonnay with bright moreishly buttery freshness to it, while the Cave des Vigneron’s 2010 Chablis, £10.99, Waitrose, is a model of a rather different type, combining the intense flavours of the chardonnay grape with a stony, mineral undertow of mouthwatering acidity.
The Plaimont Co-operative’s beret-wearing man-of-the-people André Dubosc looks far too gentle ever to have done much more than dust and polish a barricade, but Tesco’s 2011 Finest* Côtes de Gascogne, £4.99, down from £7.99, or £4.74 bottle / case, is more than a symbol of resistance to Armagnac’s decline. When its plummeting fortunes threatened the livelihood of Gascony’s growers, up stepped brave Dubosc to press the region’s native grapes into the service of wines like this, a herbal, refreshingly zesty dry white made mainly from the local gros manseng grape with a dash of sauvignon blanc.
Further south, the good men and women of the Sieur d’Arques co-operative make both good fizz and a mean chardonnay, the 2009 Les Bénédictins Chardonnay, Limoux, £12.99, Laithwaites, a burgundian-style dry white with a subtle creamy nuttiness of flavour and a clean appley bite. The 2009 Les Hauts de Castelmaure, Corbières, ££11.99, buy 2 = £9.99, Majestic, is a blend of a number of vineyard parcels belonging to Languedoc growers rather than a co-operative as such, but this vivid, exuberantly spicy ripe red tricolore of grenache, carignan and syrah softened by oak is perfect for incendiary summer barbecue action.
If you can imagine a Marie-Antoinette exhortation ‘let them drink champagne’, she might have kept her head if she’d recommended the fine proletarian Champagne Philizot, £12.99, Aldi, an excellent appley scented, soft-centred fizz with a flavoursome taste of baked apples and cream. In Robin Hood fashion, our own Co-op has infiltrated the subterranean stronghold of Charles and Piper Heidsieck to stock one of the greatest value vintage champagnes on any retail shelf in the 2004 Les Pionniers Champagne, £24.99, The Co-operative, a fizz with fabulous toasty depth of flavour, rich mouthfilling mousse and guillotine-sharp freshness. Aux verres, les citoyens.
Something For the Weekend 14 July 2012
2011 Taste the Difference Languedoc White
Jean-Claude Mas is the man, grenache blanc, marsanne and vermentino the Mediterranean grapes behind this appetizing Languedoc white which brims with ripe fleshly peach flavours and finishes with a refreshing dry flourish. £2 for £12, down from £8.99, Sainsbury’s.
2010 Vidal-Fleury, Cairanne , Rhône Valley, France
A bright, scented blend of the grenache, syrah and mourvèdre, the juicy dark berry fruit flavours are tinged with bittersweet chocolate and infused with spice in a beautifully balanced young red. £10.99, Oddbins, buy 2 = £9.99, Majestic.
2009 Paringa Estate Peninsula Pinot Noir, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
There’s a sweet berry fragrance with a light touch of herb and mint behind the sumptuously juicy raspberry and cherryish fruit of this deliciously Burgundian-style pinot noir from cool climate Mornington. £24.99, www.waitrosewine.com
and Canary Wharf.