With three listings, Domaine Begude are taking over our online wine shop. And why not? They’re that good.
It’s been there for years, but Domaine Begude is largely the creation of Englishman James Kinglake. James and his wife Catherine took over in 2003. Although the estate had been biodynamic, it was all a bit old school farmyardy, and hadn’t had the TLC it needed. There was a lot of work to do.
I met James on a freezing Sunday in late January about five years ago. I’d teamed up with one of our wine suppliers, following up leads he’d got from an organic wine expo in Montpellier. We’d just spent a fruitless morning trying to track down a seemingly non-existent Corbières producer, and stopped for a picnic of sorts with a gale from the nearby Pyrenees whistling around our ears. It was an extremely quick pit stop, and half an hour later we were at Begude being regaled with a description of the roast lamb James had eaten for lunch. It was all a bit Good Life meets Year in Provence – but the wines spoke for themselves.
Back then, I wasn’t helping with the Riverford wines, so I was just enjoying the ride. We didn’t talk prices; it was only back in Blighty when I saw a couple in Waitrose as part of a so-called ‘Brit Pack’ promotion that I realised what a bargain the wines were. They say the only way to make a small fortune out of winemaking is to start with a big one, and a vineyard in Provence does seem to be an essential appendage for many a multimillionaire. Not surprisingly, they convince themselves that their wine is magnificent and should demand the kind of prices only they and their friends can afford. James, with his Begude wines, isn’t in that camp at all. He makes the kind of good, clean, modern wines that we (the British) want to drink. He handles the distribution and marketing himself, but it’s a business, not an ego trip. By cutting out wholesalers, he’s able to keep the prices down and control where it goes, and he’s been keen on supplying Riverford from the start. If we had a franchisee in Carcassonne, he’d be a box customer – and his in-laws in Yorkshire definitely are.
His love of the noble Burgundian grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, took James to the hills around Limoux, south of Carcassonne. Slightly removed from the hot Mediterranean Languedoc, influenced by the cooling Pyrenees and Atlantic weather system, it’s perfect for discreet ‘Old World’ Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs; as good as, but half the price of their Burgundian counterparts. Jancis Robinson has been a fan for years and writes glowingly in her annual Languedoc/Roussillon assemblage reports. He’s been experimenting with other slightly cooler climate varieties – mainly Sauvignon, but also Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner – but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are what he does best.
Pinot Noir is on-trend, and sold well when we listed it last year. Sadly, that wasn’t the case with the Chardonnay. ABC (Anything But Chardonnay), that unfortunate condition bought on by over-exposure to the toasted-oaked, vanilla-heavy Antipodean version, seems to be the kiss of death for what is unquestionably the world’s finest white food grape. Call it Burgundy and it sells for £25 a bottle. Call it Chardonnay and it won’t sell full stop.
James’s Chardonnay Terroir 11300 is 85% cool-fermented in stainless steel for zesty, citrus freshness, and 15% barrel-fermented in old 600 litre demi-muids. You can hardly taste the oak, but it adds roundness and body, making the wine more comparable to a Chablis or Burgundy than hotter climate, New World Chardonnay. The vineyard at 300 meters and the cooler weather mean the grapes don’t over-ripen, keeping a crisp minerality. If you’ve been to a wine tasting or been given the once-over by a pretentious sommelier, you’ll know that minerality is very, very good. Begude Terroir is good by itself, but even better with a wide range of food – from chicken to cheeses. I particularly like it with crab, but that’s probably just me.
To make up the numbers, we’ve also added Begude’s Pinot Noir rosé. Salmon pink as a Provençal rosé, it’s a joy to drink. It was a last-minute decision and we could only get a relatively small amount, so buy now before it all goes.
James will be hosting a dinner in the Field Kitchen on May 18th. Click here to find out more and book your place for a special evening of wine-tasting alongside an unforgettable Riverford feast.