Some wines call to us, they have such a profound appeal. They possess a certain something that marks them out. You can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s captivating. The discovery of a wine that charms you can leave you quite elated and you find yourself telling your friends and family ‘you’ve got to taste so and so,’ happily waxing lyrical about how wonderful it is. You might think that the only wines this applies to are either expensive or famous brands, but you’d be wrong. Look a little deeper and you can unearth some true beauties that don’t cost a fortune.
One such dark horse is Chateau de Basset. It’s a little claret and it hails from Mourens which produces dry whites under the Haut Benauge appellation and reds under Bordeaux. By no means a grand cru, this wine comes from a small vineyard on an old estate. However, this wine has soul. To discover its source let me take you back to its roots.
It’s made by Nicolas Roux who learned his craft from his father, Daniel, who in turn was taught by his father, Raymond. Raymond instilled real passion into the boys and a deep love of the land. The Roux’s principle is to make a wine in the image of its terroir – a true Bordeaux.
Their home is an old 17th century farmstead which nestles deep in the countryside and is solidly built out of unhewn blocks of limestone. It’s been owned by the family since 1804 when the Countess of Benauge ceded the land back to her tenant farmers. Their vineyard drops down the hillside with swathes of vines stretching out from their door to the slopes beyond. It’s a shame that the wines from this area are not more widely known – but perhaps therein lies its beauty. Haut Benauge sits on a vast limestone plateau and it lies directly across the Garonne River from Graves. As Haut Benauge occupies high ground, it is considered one of the best grape-growing parts of this region. Drainage and exposure are excellent and its wines are long and perfumed.
Little known Haut Benauge may be, but it certainly has a distinguished past and there are remnants scattered of it throughout the tiny, vine enclustered villages. A medieval atmosphere pervades the air and radiates from the bastides, fortified mills and castle ruins. People feel close to the earth here. You might think I’m being poetic. I’m not, but the locals are. Especially about their wines. Before his death in 2010 Raymond wrote a poem to his boys which has so much potency. It’s called ‘One day I’ll Go” and he writes about his parting from the peaceful haven of his home, leaving the safe shelter of the shadows of its walls and the vines laboured over by his ancestors and their oxen. He writes that he has to go but that he leaves them his wine, to drink for him and says that they must raise their glasses to drink to their health and to their destiny. How can a wine made by such a man not have soul?
There’s definitely something special about Chateau de Basset. The 2008 raises a lot of comment when I take it along to tastings at shows and events. It is meltingly smooth with splendidly rounded tannins and is available at Bordeaux-Undiscovered for only £8.99. It has intense flavours of cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), rich ripe raspberry and vanilla with expressive notes of toasted oak, coffee beans and smoke. In the mouth it’s well balanced, aromatic and opulent. The Roux family have won quite a few medals and awards with their wine and it’s also lovely with food. Generous and supple, it’s great with a good steak, roast beef or lamb, mushrooms (porcini or cep), duck, pheasant, venison, rich casseroles and hard cheeses.
Try it, and let me know what you think!