GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: Wines that will not bore
Strange, isn t it, that the logo of a big wine company should be the creature which is the biggest pest in its vineyards. But the wild boar is the face of Fitou , argues the Mount Tauch co-operative deep in the Languedoc hills in southern France. The bl
Strange, isn't it, that the logo of a big wine company should be the creature which is the biggest pest in its vineyards. But the wild boar is "the face of Fitou", argues the Mount Tauch co-operative deep in the Languedoc hills in southern France.
The black-bristled wild pig - it outnumbers people in the region - rootles though the vines, crunching the sweetest, ripest grapes (muscat is its favourite) and doing far more damage than it needs to satiate its sweet tusk. There is love as well as hate in the relationship, however, and the logo isn't likely to change.
But production of the wines has altered, in a big way, since the establishment of the co-operative in 1913, a genuinely socialist initiative to help growers in this single-crop enclave survive in troubled times.
Production is now concentrated in one huge, modern winery, its stainless steel tanks a gleaming landmark in the village of Tuchan, under the mountain from which the co-op takes its name. Twenty-two million euros have been spent in the last decade, and investment is continuing, as extra tanks are added, a barrel-ageing cellar is dug into the hill and a new shop and visitor centre are created in the original headquarters building.
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But the winery doesn't give the impression of a soulless, anywhere-in-the-world industrial set-up. Mont Tauch is all about people and place - and local character in its wines. Jean-Marc Astruc, president for 10 years, must take a lot of credit for integrating modernity into tradition, but everything has to be done with the consent of the 250-plus individual members - he faces re-election each year.
The wild boar may be the face of Fitou to the French, but in the UK the words Mount Tauch must be there as well - its labels are on 99 per cent of wine sold here from the appellation, the first red AOC wine in the Languedoc. And, unlike some wines from lovely, evocative places, Fitou is very easy to buy. There are more than a dozen choices in major high street retailers, at prices from £5 to £11. Add in the Mount Tauch Corbieres (Fitou lies within the much newer Corbieres appellation, on the best vineyard sites) and vins de pays, and the choice from the co-op doubles.
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At the bottom of the price range, the Village du Sud pays d'Oc (£4.50, Co-op stores) are an enjoyable, easy introduction. The three different colours are named after Tuchan villagers, with flower-seller Sophie spot-on for the strawberry-scented, crisp-fruited yet dry rose. The growers quaff it in quantity with a picnic lunch.
But Fitou is always red, hearty and spicy, with scents and flavours from the aromatic herbs which grow around the vineyards. It's a wine for carnivores - think wild boar (or decent free-range traditional-breed pork) casserole or steak grilled rare. Vegetarians, though, can drink it happily with rich tomato-based dishes or roast root veg [See Frances Bissell on opposite page for more ways with wild boar.]
Mount Tauch Fitou 2006 (£6, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Somerfield) is a classic example: blackberry coloured, with sunny scents and flavours of dark red fruits, herbs and more, freshened with gentle acidity. It's smooth and long, and emphasises that three sneering tags among some wine snobs - co-operative, south of France and supermarket wine - can come together into a drink of real character and pleasure.
Other Fitous I've enjoyed recently include Les Douze and l'Exception (£7 and £11, Majestic), Les Quatres (£9, Waitrose), Face of Fitou (£6, Tesco) and Reserve de la Condamine (£7, Sainsbury's). But given that Mount Tauch manages to combine expression of the beguiling terroir of its 1,950 hectares of vineyard with quality and value for money, any Fitou bearing that wild boar logo should be well worth pouring.