Red, white and rosé wine from the Poitou-Charentes - definitely worth discovering!
It may come as a surprise that the Poitou-Charentes has wine - but it most certainly does! And it doesn't just make for enjoyable drinking - why not visit a domaine to and meet the producers who are making their mark not just locally, but increasingly throughout France.
To see why wines from the Poitou-Charentes - red, white and rosé - are doing well, you only have look consider a little geography. Look at the map, cast your eyes north of Poitiers and you’ll see that this part of the region of winemakers is right next door to Saumur, the Touraine and the Anjou. Given that sunshine, soil type and topography are no great respecters of human boundaries, it's not surprising that parts of the Poitou-Charentes region – notably the north of the Vienne and Deux-Sèvres - produce some excellent wines. So which wine-producing areas and names should you look out for? Here's our guide to get you started on your way...
Vins du Haut-Poitou (just north of Poitiers): the largest of the north Poitou-Charentes wine areas has a history of vineyards going back to Roman times - in the Middle Ages it was one of the best-known wine areas in this part of France. Today it is known for its fine white wines but also produces many excellent reds too. In 2010 these were awarded AOC label status, with the 2011 vintage the first that will be bearing the AOC label.
Vins de Thouarsais (slightly further north and west, based around Thouars): a small wine producing area in the Deux-Sèvres department. It is noted for its excellent whites, though it produces some fine cabernet and gamay reds too.
Vins de Saumur, nord Vienne (an area in the Vienne department in Poitou-Charentes but only just south of Saumur): another wine growing area with a long history, it produces some red wines good enough to have been the favourite of the great former prime minister and First World War leader Georges ‘The Tiger’ Clémenceau. However it is best known for its white wines and specially its sparkling wines, which many consider a good (and cheaper) alternative to champagne.
Vins d’Anjou, Deux-Sèvres (again, just in Poitou-Charentes but just south of Angers or the Anjou wine area): just 14 communes in the Deux-Sèvres have the right to use the label ‘Anjou’. Its winemakers produce red, white and rosé wines.
While the above might be the most prestigious Poitou-Charentes wines - because of the Haut-Poitou, Saumur and Anjou names – they are certainly not the only good wines produced in the region. Indeed the wines known as the Vins de Pays Charentais - www.vindepayscharentais.fr - meaning wine from the Charente and Charente-Maritime are very popular with people who know their way around a vineyard and conceal some hidden treasures.
Much of the wine production in this area – and the two Charentes have 4,500 hectares of vines - takes place along the borders of these two departments, between Aulnay to the north, down past Cognac and Saintes to Jonzac further south. However, the wine producing areas do stretch much further. The Île de Ré and the Île d’Oléron off the Atlantic coast both produce wine, and vineyards continue almost as far as the beach resort of Royan.
Perhaps more surprisingly, some of the best Charentais wine can be found further inland, north-east of Angoulême at a place called Saint-Sornin. Here the local wine cooperative turns out some excellent reds and whites, their unusual marketing using themes taken from another of the area’s attractions – prehistoric remains.
One of the delights of locals wines such as these is that one can chance upon a great producer in the most quiet and out of the way spots. And if you’re lucky you might get asked into a winemaker’s home for a tasting!
And as there are around 90 registered producers of Charentais wine, there are plenty to choose from… For more information see www.vinspoitoucharentes.com
Words: Michael STREETER
Photographs: © Jörg Jahn - Fotolia.com; lynnlin - Shutterstock