Located in the Dordogne, the region borders the Gironde with its multitude of Bordeaux appellations. Grape varieties are similar to those in Bordeaux, yet the specific soils and climate of Montravel impart particular flavours and character. For the white wines, this was recognised as far back as 1937 with the Appellation Controlée, but for the reds the AC had to wait until 2001 before it was designated. Hence the 20th anniversary this year.
Montravel is the most westerly of the Bergerac and Duras vineyards. Historically, it was mainly a red wine producing area, but after the ravages of phylloxera in the 19th century, mainly white varieties were replanted, the style and fashion at the time being for medium dry whites (moelleux). The red wines still produced, were recognised in 1943 as being generally of superior quality to other red wines of the Bergerac region, with the soils being a continuity of those in Saint Emilion.
With this initial recognition in place, an application was made in 1993 to the governing body of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine. After a great deal of work, the Appellation Controlée was accorded in 2001, with strict conditions. Not only the geographical location in relation to soils was specified, but also the yield, production methods, recognition of the importance of the Merlot grape variety and an obligation to age the wines in the area of production. All wines are then blind tasted to ensure their authenticity before sale.
The story of the creation of a new designated wine region is emblematic of the evolution of production and consummation of wine both in France and worldwide. The modern wine drinker above all seeks quality, value and authenticity, all of which are embodied in Montravel AC – now Montravel AOP. Further innovative measures have been introduced to ensure traceability and quality assurance, with the adoption of a specific bottle type for all producers and a producer code stamped on every cork or closure.
The quality of the wine is assured only once the wine is a finished product through the system of blind tastings, a new approach to the Appellation regime, further guaranteeing both quality and authenticity. The wine also has to have aptitude for ageing and at least 50 per cent Merlot grapes in the blend.
The long road to achieving recognition and simultaneously augmenting the quality of Montravel Rouge is a remarkable success story, with some in the wine trade now comparing the quality and style to its far more illustrious neighbour – Pomerol, particularly those wines with 90 per cent Merlot. With prices two to three times less, the potential is enormous.
These wines are certainly worth tracking down, which in the UK may prove somewhat of a challenge with few current importers. If you are lucky enough to be able to travel to France, buy some there, especially if you visit the Dordogne. At a tasting event this month at the Chateau de Vigiers, I tasted wines from a dozen producers, all of which impressed in their different ways, full of plummy fruit, elegance and complexity. Even a wine from the 2001 vintage was still in remarkably good condition.