One of the most bittersweet aspects of reading old books about wine is the suggestions for good areas to bargain hunt. In The Daily Telegraph Guide to the Pleasures of Wine by Denis Morris I came across the following: ‘Hermitage both for drinking and keeping is another long-lasting wine of interest to the man of limited means.’ The other underpriced area he recommends is Pomerol.
Morris’s book was published in 1972. Oh to have been alive then! Since then these wines have become highly sought after. No need to be too nostalgic, however, because we are now living in a golden age for those willing to take a few risks. There are wines outside the classic regions that are the modern day equivalent of Morris’s Hermitage. My favourite hunting ground for such wines is the Languedoc specifically Faugeres. This tiny AOC near Montpellier makes the best value fine wines in the world.
Like most reds from the South of France, Faugeres is made from a blend of syrah, grenache, carignan, mouvedre and cinsault. It is difficult to generalise about them as they are made in different styles. There are not many producers and the wines are cheap so one could very quickly become an armchair expert on this region. These are my three favourite domaines:
Domaine Alquier: the first Faugeres I ever tried was their Les Bastides 2003. Unlike many premium wines, it wasn’t smothered in new oak or over-extracted. It was perfumed and silky with some sweet but not jammy fruit . It was almost how one hopes Burgundy is going to taste but rarely does. The Bastides is about £15 but they do cheaper wines which are also very good available from the Wine Society.
Domaine Leon Barral: if Alquier is the Burgundy of Faugeres then this is the Bordeaux. They tend to be dark, meaty and serious. M. Barral farms organically and favours non-interventionist wine-making. Available from Bottle Apostle.
Domaine du Meteore: astonishing value for money. Their Les Leonides 2006 costs under £10 a bottle. My wife says that it smells like old socks, the most delicious old socks in all of France. These are pungent, distinctive wines which it is not hard to develop a taste for. Available from the Sampler.
I think there is one co-op in Faugeres which is very reliable. In fact I don’t think I have ever had a bad one. There is also a twin appellation next door called Saint Chinian which offer similar quality. And then there are Montpeyroux, Pic Saint Loup and La Clape. It’s an exciting time to be poor and adventurous. Go and buy before everyone else finds out about them.