With twelve of the Domaine Begude wines (including magnums of the top Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), they’re taking over the shops. 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 and although the estate had been biodynamical before, 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 late January Sunday about five years ago. I’d teamed up with one of our wine suppliers following up leads he’d picked up at 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 by a description of the roast lamb James had had 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 Riverford Organics with their wines so I was just enjoying the ride. We didn’t talk prices and it was only back in Blighty when I saw a couple of the wines in Waitrose as part of a so-called ‘Brit Pack’ promotion that I realised what a bargain they were. They say the only way of making 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 us and the box scheme from the start. If we had a farm shop in Carcassonne he’d be a customer and his in-laws in Yorkshire get a veg box every week.
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 Gruner Veltliner, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are what he does best. Pinot is on-trend and has sold well since 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 like 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. Our/Jame’s Chardonnay Terroir 11300 is 85% cool-fermented in stainless steel for the 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 to make it more comparable to a Chablis or Burgundy than, hotter climate, cool fermeted, 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.
We’ve also just had our allocation of Begude’s Pinot Noir rose. Salmon pink as a Provencal rose, it’s a joy to drink. It was a last minute decision and we could only get a relatively small allocation so buy it now before it all goes.
Begude Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Gruner Veltliner and the more expensive Etoille (Chardonnay) and Esprit (Pinot Noir) are also available in the shops. With the exception of the last two, they’re all around a tenner a bottle
James will be hosting a tasting and supper in Ben’s Wine and Tapas, on May 17th. Tickets are £20 and can be booked by calling 01803840853 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be a 10% discount on Begude wines on the night so if you like the wines as much as we do you’ll get most of the price of your ticket back.
A couple of years ago our local Sharpham Estate Selection was voted best English wine to drink with crab. We thought we’d put it to the test during English Wine Week on May 31st. Winemaker, Duncan Schwab, will be showing a range of Sharpham wines to accompany a selection of crabby small plates and tapas from the kitchen. Again, tickets are £20, again with a 10% discount on Sharpham wines to go. I might even sneak in a bit of competition in the form of the Begude Chardonnay – it should be a good night.