This area is the region of France where Cognac is produced and the less famous Pineau de Charente which is very popular locally, so there are many vineyards in the Cocnac region associated with these two products and they don’t account for wine production.
Having said that this region does produce wine and in the future months and years I will post blogs about the different wines that are available. As an introduction lets just set out what is on offer.
First of all there are a lot of Vins de Pays Charentais. It’s nice to say that, ‘Vin de pays…Char ent ais’ – it slips off the tongue quite easily, a bit like the wine does on a hot summers day. In the classification of wines Vin de Pays is in the third division of French wines with Vin de table bottom of the heap. That does not mean to say that some are not very good and that quite a lot achieve a very acceptable standard but it does mean that the producers cannot charge the higer prices that the other two categories of wine can command.
The reason it is only a Vin de Pays is that it is a wine that is not produced within one of the Appellation Controlee regions such as Bergerac or Haut Poitou. There are some controls on the quality and region of production but they are less rigorous. It is odd how you can drive towards say Bergerac and not see any vines at all and then suddenly you see nothing else but vineyards. It is because on one side of the line that the great and the good of wine administration have designated, any wine produced would have to be a Vin de Table and not worth very much but literally the neighbouring field can be inside the area and thus can produce a wine that commands a good price.
Vin de pays Charentais is produced as you might expect in Charente and Charente-Maritime. A lot is produced around Cognac and Saintes and towards Jonzac, also quite a lot on the Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron, some around Fouras and some to the north of Angouleme. They are white wines and quite light,-as I have said good on a summer’s day with Fruits de Mer or a plate of oysters or on its own….why not?
The most prestigious wine of the region is of course Haut Poitou, which is based around the town of Neuville-de-Poitou which is where the cooperative set up a modern temperature controlled fermentation process in 1981/3 and where they have a very efficient outlet so the public can try the different wines on offer and buy direct. Other regional products are also on sale so it is well worth a visit.
They produce both reds and whites. The reds are good and based on the Gamay and Cabernet Franc grapes, where as the whites are made from Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes. I love the Sauvignon. It is perfect with fish, oysters or any sea food. Oz Clarke said ‘You’ve got to relish crisp zingy acidity to like Haut-Poitou whites, because they are austere, squeaky clean demonstrations of the varietal flavour of each grape.‘ The Haut-Poitou wines are now rated as A.C. which is top drawer. A.C.or sometimes it is called A.O.C. is Appellation d’Origine Controlee where the type of grapes that are allowed are controlled and the borders of the region where they can be grown are delimited.
An interesting fact about Haut-Poitou wines is that during the time of King John it was the most widely consumed wine in England being exported through the port of La Rochelle and when at that time King John set fixed prices for wines he listed first the wines of Haut-Poitou, then Anjou and then the Loire – the wines from Bordeaux did not even get a mention. How times have changed.
Now that brings me to two other wines produced in the area, albeit only just. Both the wines of Anjou and of Saumur overlap into the very north of Deux Sevres and Vienne respectively. However they are not really what you would naturally associate with Poitou Charentes, so maybe I won’t feature them so much.
Finally there is a very small region also in Deux Sevres based around the town of Thouars which evidently produce excellent white wine known as Thouarsais, as well as some reds based on Cabernet and Gamay grapes. This is a priority for me to visit soon and get to grips with as I have not experienced the delights of their viticulture yet. I have now visited and you can click here to find out what I discovered about Thouarsais Wines
I would welcome your comments on any of the above wines especially any really good producers of Vin de pays Charentais, I have read there is one very good wine produced near Saint Sornin to the North East of Angouleme.