Saint Mont: Weird and wonderful

The vines behind the monastery at St Mont
The vines behind the monastery at St Mont

Some wine regions make it easy for us, planting recognisable varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Others, such as Saint Mont, are wilfully obscure. Glass of Arufiac, anyone?

The Saint Mont area takes its name from a tiny village in the foothills of the Pyrenees, one of a number that make up the broader appellation. With just 300 inhabitants, this elderly hamlet is perched on the edge of a hill on the south-western edge of Gascony. The villages are interspersed with farms, vineyards and cornfields for foie gras production.

It is an area proud of its food and wine traditions. One of its gifts to the world is Armagnac, a grape spirit that has seen its fortunes decline dramatically in recent years. Turning to wine production to survive, Armagnac producers might understandably have chosen well-known varieties. But André Dubosc, the charismatic, beret-wearing Willy Wonka of the wine world, had a more eccentric plan.

He gathered the disparate local growers together, formed a co-operative winery and convinced them to concentrate on ancient local varieties instead. So for their whites, they blend Petit Courbu, Arufiac, Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng. For their reds and rosés they use Tannat, Pinenc and the more recognisable Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The reds are concentrated, dark and brooding with earthy, spicy undertones. The whites are typically dry, tangy, sappy, rich in colour and flavour.

Dubosc may now have retired, but Plaimont Producteurs remains a beacon of excellence amongst French co-ops. His legacy is a vineyard of over a hundred heritage strains saved from extinction from the surrounding area, many of which still remain unidentified. The next one tipped for greatness is Manseng Noir, and plantings have already begun at neighbouring winery Château de Cassaigne. Like a kid in a sweetshop, I can’t wait to try it.


 Marks & Spencer Saint Mont 2012 (M&S, £7.99)

This juicy, sappy white made from Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arufiac has bags of pineapple and lime flavour and a tingling finish.

Château de Sabazan Saint Mont 2010 (Spirited Wines, £16.40 for the 2008)

Very spicy aroma, full-bodied with lots of rich dark fruit flavour and a hint of leather. A perfect partner for duck.

Le Faîte Saint Mont 2011 (Portland Wine, £18.95)

Rich yet lean, with perfumed quince aromas followed up by an intense citrusy burst of flavour. One of the most distinctive whites of the region – even better with a few years in bottle.

First published in Living France.