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Saturday 14 September 2019

Wines of the Gard at Thirsty

A tasting of Gard wines with Thirsty Cambridge

Sam Owens' vision for his Thirsty wine bars in Cambridge is that they should do more than just sell bottles of wine; they should be part of a European-style scene where you come for the local produce - artisan bread, cheese and coffee as well as a glass of wine - and stay for the atmosphere.

Go to more or less any French town and this is a way of life; you can make up an inexpensive "market picnic" from local produce. It is only a couple of weeks since I introduced the family to the joys of oysters and white wine at on the banks of the Charente. For just a few euros, we had six oysters, served on ice, with a wedge of lemon and unlimited fresh bread.

This sort of thing is rather harder to do in Britain, however, where regional artisan food is virtually non-existent and the combination of high shop rents and a northern, protestant work ethic discourages lingering in cafes.

However, none of that is stopping Sam from pressing ahead with plans to create a food-and-drink culture scene in Cambridge, of which more in due course.

Just back from a holiday in the Gard in southern France, Sam had brought some local wines to try out with a view to stocking them if they proved popular enough..

Gard is not an especially well-known region - just west of the Rhône but technically in Occitanie, it includes the appellation of Costières de Nîmes, but little else of any fame. This makes it a place of innovation and experimentation, with cheap land, plentiful sunshine and no heritage to maintain or be constrained by.

Most of these wines were labelled as vin de France as they are somewhat iconoclastic in style and do not conform to any regional archetypes.

I tasted through all of them with Sam and the style will be familiar to anyone who knows his palate - vibrant, fresh and drinkable with low tannins and low alcohol, a world apart from the standard Rhône characteristics of dark-berry fruit, spice, supple tannins and plenty of ripeness.

Mostly southern GSM-blends, there were also a couple of curveballs; a Sangiovese and a very funky-nosed Cinsault. However, the doozy of the pack was Partouze; made from 13 grape varieties, it is cloudy reddish-pink, chilled and tastes somewhere between fermenting grape must, cider and a hoppy ale. All of this in a good way.
Topping and tailing the tasting were perhaps my two favourite wines of the evening; Gard du Nord, a vibrant, juicy and compelling Grenache with lots of flavour yet just 12% alcohol and Mont de Marie, a more conventional Rhône-esque red with dark fruit and a supple texture.

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