For many years I’ve enjoyed French wine. Years ago, I would go for a bottle of port or sherry for my parents when it was sold draught with a choice of styles, so I would ask for a sample and select what I considered to be the better one. My first glass of wine was from Graves at the Bennetts End Inn and very memorable it was too, there’s some classic wines in Graves along with neighbouring Sauternes with Château d’Yquem – the only chateau ranked Premier Cru Supérieur by the 1855 classification.
As a regular customer of the newly opened Oddbins in Plymouth, whose knowledgable and friendly staff introduced me to many other wines I made several great discoveries. Whilst my father in law, aka ‘The Grand Master of the Medoc’ had a great passion for Bordeaux wine, being extremely knowledgable on the prestigious appellations of St Estephe, St Julien, Pauliac and Margaux included in his treasured collection. I spent many a grand evening drinking and discussing wine to the early hours, which usually involved a reading from ‘The Bible’ otherwise known as Alexis Lichine’s 1855 classification of Bordeaux wine which controversially challenged its validity. Following which I was expected to answer questions the next day.
During the 1980’s these classed growths became popular and some far too expensive. My search began for the producteurs of the not so well known houses some of which punch well above their weight. The people who devote decades of work to their vines and production but continue to sell at a fair price and in doing so discovered Chateau Cissac.
In the early 1990’s along with two colleagues I founded the HMS Sceptre Wine Society with a corporate account at OddBinns, we agreed a minimum of £800 in purchases a year. The first night we signed up around thirty members and our annual sales target achieved in just over one week. Two years later with over 300 members on our books, we were Oddbins south west Scotland’s largest customer and granted three wine presentations on board a year, their staff loved it and so did we!
Following this, in Giddings of Devizes, I discovered Chateau Pierrail whose excellent range of award winning wines I have enjoyed ever since, offering outstanding value and to date I have found little to challenge them for their quality or price.
Sadly, the greatest wines are beyond reach with some commanding ridiculous prices, however next to each great chateau lies an estate, not so famous but on similar land and terroir, probably run by ex employees. Smaller operations are so easily overlooked, but they are often run by people with great passion, dedication and enthusiasm, just waiting to be discovered. The main theme of this is to encourage trying something different, recently in a Plymouth wine bar it would have been easy to select something French, but my choice was a Lebanese red and very good it was too.
I’m fortunate to live in France and visit Bordeaux and other producteurs we now know well such as Sylvie and Gaël at Daheron, whose Loire wines really punch above their weight. The best I’ve discovered and visited over several years are all represented in the wine category and I hope you enjoy them too, or perhaps start your own search for favourites.
Image of bottles from Chateau Pierrail