27 Jun The Wines of the Dordogne Valley
The art of growing and tasting wine is one of the most distinctive features of French culture.
The Romans were the first to introduce wine into the Dordogne Valley, benefitting from the sunny weather and the warmth of the area.
Nowadays, thousands of Appellation wines – red, rosé, dry and sweet white – are produced throughout the valley, from the hills of the upper Quercy down to the Gironde, opposite the great châteaux of the Médoc.
Vin paillé (straw wine)
The name ‘Vin paillé’ comes from the method used to dry the grapes.
Grapes are hand-picked and placed on trays, usually made of straw or wood, where they are dried to concentrate their flavours.
This traditional method is used to produce the sweet white or red ‘vin paillé’ or straw wine. It can be served as an aperitif, or with foie gras, cheeses and desserts.
Vins de Corrèze (Corrèze wine)
Vineyards could be found everywhere until the outbreak of phylloxera in the late 19th century, after which only the most established survived.
In the south of the Corrèze, however, there has been a recent revival of an ancient wine, so well reputed that it was drunk by monks at Cluny in Burgundy, and this Vin de Corrèze is known recognised as a PGI.
Coteaux de Glanes
Coteaux de Glanes is one of the smallest recognised vineyard areas in France. It is situated in the Lot department on the left bank of the Dordogne River, along with another one where commercial production is recent.
Its seven growers work as a co-operative, producing easy-drinking reds and rosés with spicy, floral notes.
Vin de Domme (Domme wine)
In Florimont-Gaumier, about 20 km south of the village of Domme, since 1994, seven passionate wine-growers have revived a vineyard with a famous history.
Today, with 21 acres, they produce two types of rosés and different red wines, one of them being elevated in oak barrels. The ‘Cave du Vin de Domme’ (Domme’s winehouse) organises wine tasting and guided tours of the vineyard.
Vins de Bergerac (Bergerac wines)
Bergerac’s vineyards are incredibly diverse, producing reds, dry whites, rosés, sparkling and sweet wines. The wine region spreads over a large area on both sides of the Dordogne River, divided between alluvial terraces (right bank) and limestone plateaus (left bank). It encompasses 93 villages and over 12,000 hectares of vines producing 13 ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée’ (AOC). Well-known names from the region are Monbazillac, Montravel, Pécharmant, Rosette and Saussignac.
Vins de Bordeaux (Bordeaux wines)
Past Libourne, vineyards reign on both banks of the Dordogne River. Red wines predominate on the right bank with the vineyards of Côtes de Bourg, Fronsac, and Canon Fronsac, which date from the Gallo-Roman era, long before the Médoc.
On the left bank, the huge triangle of the Entre-Deux-Mers is famed for its white wines, with the exception of the Graves de Vayre, where the gravelly soil mostly produces reds.
Vins de Saint-Emilion (Saint-Emilion wines)
To the east of Libourne, in the Gironde, the Saint Emilion red wines are internationally acclaimed. There are 12 appellations concentrated in this rich area of 5,500 hectares where the climate, soil, geography and history have produced such names as Lalande de Pomerol, Côtes de Bordeaux and Crémant de Bordeaux. Two of the most famous names, Château Cheval Blanc and Château Ausone, fetch prices rivalling those of Bordeaux’s Premiers Grands Crus.
The Dordogne Valley also has a tradition of excellent liqueurs and aperitifs made from local plants.
In the mountain pastures of the Auvergne, a root is painstakingly searched out and dug up from where it grows wild to be used in Gentiane liqueurs, with different recipes being used across the region to give a choice of aperitifs. The original one was produced by Couderc in the Cantal. Nowadays, Suze, Salers and Aveze are among the most famous brand names selling Gentiane liqueur.
Here is a selected choice of distilleries where you can discover and taste local liqueurs.
The Denoix distillery
Delicious alcoholic drinks, part of the local culinary heritage, can be discovered at the Denoix Distillery, located in the heart of Brive since 1839. Apéritifs and liqueurs made from walnuts locally grown and red fruits, that are macerated, distilled and blended with fine Armagnac or Cognac are made, along with La Moutarde Violette de Brive (a mild, tasty mustard flavoured with grape must). The same equipment, methods, recipes and ingredients as in the 19th century are still used – and the results are every bit as good as then!
The Louis Roque distillery
At the Louis Roque distillery in Souillac, a secret and subtle mixture of different plum varieties has been passed on for generations to produce ‘La Vieille Prune’, a fine, smooth plum brandy.
The La Salamandre distillery
Four kilometers away from Sarlat, this traditional family distillery produces fruit spirits, liqueurs and aperitifs, along with jars of fruit in alcohol, from the finest crops grown in the region and picked at just the right moment. Their recipes and methods have been handed down in the family for years, and the results prove that the old-timers knew a thing or two…
There’s a growing trend in France and around the world toward the production of organic wines, and many producers here in the Dordogne Valley are enthusiastically joining the movement, starting from scratch or converting already well-established vineyards.
Organic wine is made from grapes that are grown without the use of artificial or synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or fungicides, and without genetically modified organisms (GMO). The addition of sulfites is also reduced or eliminated.
An organic wine producer thus works with nature rather than against it, through practices that respect the natural balance of the environment and promote its biodiversity, using it, rather than artificial means, to combat pests and diseases. These practices often require more time and labor than conventional methods, but luckily many producers are willing to make the effort.
The result is wines that are better for our health, and for the health of the environment!
You can buy and taste organic wines at many vineyards, farmer’s markets, specialized wine stores, or “caves,” and even in many supermarkets. Some vineyards offer tours and tastings lasting a couple of hours to a full day. Some offer wine tasting and wine making lessons as well, or even a nice meal to go with your wine.
Hmm… sounds like the makings of a lovely day!