Thursday 8 May 2014

Prieuré Saint-Jacques Corbières 2011: Plan B

So, having recovered a bit of composure after the Virgin futility, I return to my original Fitou/Corbières fixation. Why either of these?

1) French, but not a Bordeaux or a Burgundy or anything high-end or infested by wealthy pedants

2) To a suggestible punter, redolent of the deep south of France, tourism overtones, keynotes of non-existent idealised locations, dust, heat, cicadas

3) Okay price

4) Nostalgia - not actually a legitimate reason for anything, revealing as it does a shallowly-submerged desire to recall some limelit period back in the 1980's when we were young, and drank cheap Fitou and Corbières and they were foul, but we had something then, we had dependable eyesight, unrealistic self-belief, SKOL lager, and an answering machine that had to be installed by a BT engineer

A perfunctory trawl of the internet turns up some positives. Wine-Searcher describes Fitou as 'Rustic, herby, leather-scented, medium-bodied and moderately tannic,' which is exactly what I'm after with the exception of leather-scented. French Mediterranean Wine talks about 'Chunky and quite extracted with vibrant fruit'. The confidence sappingly-named We Review Anything hails 'Woody spicy French sophistication on a budget'; also good.

It takes Jancis Robinson to lower the temperature with a minatory 'The dominant co-operatives - ' in the Fitou area ' - have been slow to realise that quality is the key to survival', and 'There is still a vast amount of cynical "commodity" wine on the market.' While noting her reservations, I am still keen. The key is to get hold of anything from the Mont Tauch co-operative, far and away the most highly-regarded of the region, and whose products are not that difficult to find.

Only, for administrative reasons, I have to get it from my doorstep Waitrose. Do they have any such thing? No. They used to do a Fitou, a Mont Tauch, but not now. I assume they've decided that Fitou is too low-rent and best left to Tesco and Asda, both of whom do have it, but not near enough to where I live.

'Oh, crap,' I say, staring at the wines, and a man with a shallow trolley full of water bottles looks at me.

Plan B, therefore, is to retreat to the nearest available Waitrose Corbières, which turns out to be this Prieuré Saint-Jacques 2011, and about which I have no information, only a skimpy aspirational mood. I get it, return home, and set about justifying my decision. What'sThe Best Wine doesn't actually say anything about Prieuré Saint-Jacques, or indeed, Corbières, other than 'I'm a big fan of South of France wines and its big, spicy, feral reds.' Feral, I'm going to guess, is all right. Vivino does, however, have the very bottle I've just bought: 'Good initial nose and well-rounded flavour with a hint of blackcurrants, but a little short with quick alcoholic fumes.'

'I can live with that,' I say aloud. 'I've had worse.'

Better, though, is Tasted and Rated, but of a different 2011 Corbières: 'Really very good and ridiculously good value.' I have paid £6.49 for mine. Is that good value? 

I can't go on psyching myself up forever. I must drink the stuff.

The tasting notes come out like this:

- No nose
- Berries
- Slight farmyard
- Dry, almost biscuity finish, increasingly peppery
- Nice acidity
- Herbal
- Reticent

In other words, the usual dumb opacities, followed by my pen running out of ink.

'I can live with this,' I say aloud, again. 'I've definitely had worse.' To test this assertion, I grab an already-opened bottle of South African Cabernet Franc - a Virgin by-product - and take a sip. Then some more of the Corbières. To give it its due, the Cabernet Franc started off yesterday as dull as gifted knitwear but got more likeable after a few hours of neglect, so it's a worthy opponent: turns out it's actually no worse than the Corbières; but on the other hand, not quite as interesting.

The Corbières, by the same token, has something of what I thought I was looking for (deep south, medium bodied, angry spices, leatherette): but enough to make it worth taking a plunge on, oh, half a case of more of the same? Or, better still, going back to Plan A and getting some Fitou at Majestic? I've invested so much in this project - about an hour's constructive thought - that I have to go forward with it. It's just unfortunate that my track record when it comes to conscious wine purchasing is spotty, to say the least. I'm tempted, though. I'm tempted like Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity.



  1. Wonderfully articulated as ever. In these straitened times, with the plutocrats from Mayfair, Beijing and Manhattan stomping over and pumping up Bordeaux and Burgundy, we are all paysanne-istas when it comes to France...

  2. Thanks for those kind words - and yes, for some of us, rustic is the only way to go in these tricky times...


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