Gérard Bertrand is hardly one to stand idly about. For 17 years he played rugby at the highest level and eventually became captain of Stade Francais, a professional rugby union in Paris. But with an end to his rugby career in sight, Bertrand traded his cleats for boots.
Above photo courtesy Bertrand Wines/Olivier Lebaron
He returned to his roots where his father cultivated vineyards in the Corbieres region of southern France. Today he is passionate about drawing world attention to the Languedoc region for its allegiance to biodynamic farming. But he also wants the world to see that the Languedoc can produce world-class wines, a reputation that for decades has eluded the region.
Over several years Bertrand expanded his empire to 15 estates. His wines are widely exported and today he is the largest importer of French wine into the U.S. market. His products are easy to spot because of their distinctive package: sometimes in svelte 350-ml bottles and other times in natural-clay bottles.
Bertrand’s wines are good examples of the goodness that can come from biodynamic practices. Not only is the elimination of pesticides and herbicides better for the environment, but the wines are delicious. His vibrant sauvignon blanc, in particular, was one of the best we’ve tasted. His chardonnay is very balanced in a pure French style. The red blends have bright, pure fruit character that will make believers out of those who dismiss biodynamic farming.
Bertrand said his biodynamically farmed vineyards are better able to defend against climate changes, including heat waves and a lack of rain.
“It’s dry in the summer, but we get rain in the spring. But after the rain, we always have wind,” Bertrand said. The winds spare the vines of disease and the need for chemical spraying.
Bertrand is a supporter of World Central Kitchen, an international effort to feed the hungry. Click https://wck.org/mission for more information.
With 45 vintages under his belt, Bertrand is hitting full stride. Here are some of his wines:
- Gérard Bertrand Cote des Roses Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($10/375ml). Bertrand attributes the success of this fresh sauvignon blanc to the hard limestone soil and careful timing of when the grapes are harvested. He said he is striving to create a style between the sauvignon blancs made in Sancerre and New Zealand. We couldn’t stop drinking this wine. Guava and lemon/lime notes and a bit of minerality. Long, intense finish. Ten percent of the wine was aged in French oak.
- Gérard Bertrand Cote des Roses Chardonnay 2018 ($10/375ml). Pineapple and peach flavors dominate this balanced and nuanced chardonnay. Dried apple, citrus and hazelnut aromas with pineapple, vanilla, spice and mineral flavors. Fresh and lingering.
- Gérard Bertrand Chateau l’Hospitalet Grand Vin 2018 ($45). This exotic and complex blend of syrah, grenache and mourvedre show what the terroir is capable of producing in this often-neglected region. Fine tannins yet elegant, it shows off dense strawberry and red currant flavors. Its 2017 vintage was judged the Best Wine in the World in the International Wine challenge.
- Gérard Bertrand Art de Vivre Red 2015 ($20). Syrah, grenache and mouvedre are again featured in this classic but round blend that begs for a second glass. Red fruit dominate the palate. Long finish. The bottle is made of natural clay.
Petite sirah is often an underrated and undiscovered wine, yet we find it scores a hit whenever poured to friends. It is one of the darkest wines and thus one of the most intensive with flavors ranging from black berries to plums. Here are few good examples:
- Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah 2017 ($47). About 15 percent of this wine is a blend of Rhone Valley varietals and all of the wine is vinified in American oak barrels. The wine has black fruit aromas with hints of mineral. Flavors focus on blackberries, red currants and a hint of anise and allspice. Good depth and body.
- Legacy Petite Sirah 2017 ($100). This delicious wine made under Jackson Family Wine’s heralded Legacy label uses grapes from the recently purchased Field Stone Vineyard in Alexander Valley. About 12 percent syrah is blended into this broad-flavored, complex and rich wine with dark fruit flavors.
- Merisi Wines Diener Vineyard Lake County Petite Sirah 2017 ($60). Loads of ripe blackberry and plum flavors with some nice chocolate and vanilla notes. Very dense, opaque color.
Lo-cal wines are becoming somewhat of a fad. Those of you who are conscious of your intake of alcohol and calories should see if these wines are for you.
Calories in wine come from the sugar in grapes, most of which is converted to alcohol. Sweet wines obviously have more calories, but there are dry wines vinified with low alcohol. Most of the wines from Alsace, for instance, are under 13 percent while red wines, such as zinfandel, can be as high as 16 percent in alcohol. Pay attention because it can affect your intoxication.
We tasted several lo-cal wines from Sunny Wines. The makers boast that their wines have zero sugar, 9 percent alcohol, 85 calories per serving and are gluten-free and sustainably grown. Sunny Wines make sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir.
We tried the wines and they aren’t bad if you are willing to make a few sacrifices in flavor. They are similar to light beer in that they don’t have the body or complexity as a more alcoholic wine. If you are willing to sacrifice the flavors of a regular beer, you may be happy with a thinner wine.
The wines retail for $17 a bottle. For more information, go to sunnywines.com.
- Avalon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($20). This is a lot of oak-barrel-aged wine for the price. Medium body, forward and ripe black cherry and raspberry flavors with floral aromas and soft tannins.
- Turnbull Oakville Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($85). Founded in 1979, this Oakville property flies below the radar. But its property offers spectacular fruit that makes its way into this special wine from the estate’s Fortuna and Leopoldina vineyards. Dark fruit aromas with rich, forward plum and black berry flavors.
- Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve Rosé 2019 ($14). From the venerable Perrin family, this rosé from the Cotes du Rhone is a classic blend of cinsault, grenache, syrah and mourvedre grapes. Great mineral notes accent the fresh red berry flavors.
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Tom Marquardt (email for questions) and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They’ve traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the U.S.
Tom lives in Florida with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, Md.