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The wines of Gérard Bertrand, Languedoc, France

Gérard Bertrand, Château l’Hospatilet, Route de Narbonne Plage, 11100 Narbonne, France; Tel (33) 4 68 45 36 00 Fax (33) 4 68 45 27 17

Scale matters in winemaking. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the better when it comes to wine. There lots of high-quality small boutique wineries, but at the premium end bigger companies generally can’t compete: they can pump out the volume, but at the cost of standardization and blandness.

This is why I find Gérard Bertrand interesting. It’s a sizeable operation, with some 250 hectares of vines spread across some fine Languedoc terroirs; in addition, Bertrand operates in partnership with 40 growers and 10 coops in the region. The result is a range than spans high-end wines all the way to affordable varietals, with quality high across the board. The nice thing is that many of these wines are made in quantities sufficient to satisfy the demands of larger retailers, so distribution is good.

The man behind the brand is an ageless-looking ex-rugby international with a thick head of curly hair, Gérard Bertrand. He preaches the traditional French gospel of terroir, and yet at the same time he oversees a thoroughly sleek, modern operation – for example, harvesting is done at phenolic maturity with lab analysis of grape polyphenols.

Expansion here has been quite recent, with the development of the brand’s HQ at Château l’Hospitalet (in the La Clape region of the Languedoc) in 2002. This La Clape property has 52 hectares of vines, and is now the showpiece of the operation, with extensive visitor facilities and a large cellar. As well as these vineyards, Bertrand has 110 hectares in the Corbières, 50 hectares in Minervois la Livinière, and 40 hectares at Cigalus (this wine is classified as Vin de Pays d’Oc).

The range of wines produced is extensive and is stratified into six lines, designated both by AOC and also by grape variety. ‘Parcel’ sits at the top, then there are the ‘H’ range and ‘Properties’ range at the next level, then ‘Terroir’ and ‘Collection’ just below them, then ‘Classic’ at the bottom.

What do they taste like? In short, they are close to flawless, combining modern, fruit forward flavours with enough regional character to make them stand out from the crowd. I tried through the range twice in the space of a six months, and came away impressed both times. You get the impression that if France had more wine companies like this, they wouldn’t have too much to fear from new world competition.

Gérard Bertrand Coteaux du Languedoc 2001 ‘Terroir’
Very rich tarry, spicy nose with rich fruit. The palate shows a good concentration of rich fruit. It’s a savoury, spicy, dense modern red. Very good+ 88/100 [incidentally, this is the score I gave the wine both times, 6 months apart] (£6.99 Tesco)

H de l’Hospitalet Blanc 2002
Lovely full, fruity white with some nutty richness. Nicely textured with good fruit character. Very good+ 88/100 [again, a consistent rating] (Tesco £6.99)

Gérard Bertrand Viognier Collection 2002
Nice, fresh fruity wine with a rounded texture and some peach and apricot notes. Good balance here. Very good+ 87/100 (£5.99 Majestic)

Cigalus Blanc, Vin de Pays d’Oc 2003
Cigalus is a 22 hectare estate, and this is the only one of Bertrand’s properties that practices biodynamics. 500 cases of the white are made, a blend of 75% Chardonnay, 20% Viognier and 5% Sauvignon. Some nice oak here complementing the lovely pure fruit. Good acidity too. Very good+ 88/100 [I gave the 2001 vintage a rating of 90/100 some months earlier] (c. £15)

Cigalus Rouge Vin de Pays d’Oc 2001
Rich, ripe blackcurrant fruit nose with a savoury, spicy edge. The palate is generous and chunky with ripe fruit and some minerally earthiness. Nice spicy finish. Lovely wine. Very good/excellent (c. £15)

La Forge Corbières 2000
A blend of Carignan and Syrah from old vines. Precisely defined with a minerally, vividly fruited nose. Perfumed. The palate is concentrated and intense with vivid fruit and an appealing earthy, spicy complexity. Quite structured and a superb effort. Very good/excellent 93/100 (Majestic, Les Caves de Pyrène £19.99)

La Viala Minervois La Livinière 2000
Sophisticated nose of ripe, forward sweet liqueur-like fruit. The palate is concentrated and smooth with lots of ripe fruit and a nice savoury, earthy twist. A big wine in a modern style. Very good/excellent 92/100 (Majestic, Les Caves de Pyrène £19.99)

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