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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
25 Jul 2014

From $9.98 for 37.5 cl, and €9, £13.99 for 50 cl

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I don't know about you but I love a glass of sweet wine at the end of a meal. The only problem with Sauternes, for example, is that it doesn't keep that well in an opened bottle, so you need quite a few fellow sippers to do justice to 75 cl - which is why I tend to buy my Sauternes en primeur in half-bottles.

But one sort of well-priced sweet wine that is really quite robust is vin doux naturel, a sweet wine made rather like port by stopping fermentation with a slug of alcohol while the fermenting must is still high in grape sugar. If you're a Purple Pager, you can read this article on this ancient method of making sweet wine in your online Oxford Companion to Wine.

Many of these vins doux naturels are based on Muscat, a particularly suitable grape variety for sweet wines. Beaumes-de-Venise, Cap Corse in Corsica, Frontignan, Lunel, Mireval and Rivesaltes all produce variations on this theme but my favourite is Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois, from vines round a tiny little village of fewer than 200 souls at 250 m up in the arid hills in the north-east corner of the Minervois appellation, on the border with St-Chinian.

These Muscat vineyards are more than twice as high as any of the other candidates and, as for most of them, the Muscat variety is the superior, small-berried Muscat Blanc (as opposed to the Muscat of Alexandria that generally produces rather stickier and more marmalade-like sweet wines - typically Spanish Moscatel). This makes Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois the most elegant of the sweet French Muscats in my experience, and most are 15% alcohol - not overpoweringly strong.

The appellation is so small that there is only a handful of producers, including the co-op, with Domaine de Barroubio one of the most widely distributed. I've never had a bad Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois but my favourite comes from Domaine de Montahuc. At one time it was owned by Robert Eden, who seems to have had fingers in most pies in the western Languedoc at one time or another. Today it is owned by Michel Poudou, a long-standing wine consultant who has just retired (relatively) to his home in the Minervois after having worked extensively not just in the Languedoc but also in Spain, China and Texas inter alia. He bottles the produce of the younger vines as Domaine des Chênes in 75-cl bottles but Domaine de Montahuc, in half-litres, is the real deal. The ubiquitous Benjamin Darnault is the winemaker (how does he do it all?).

Having been an Eden property, the domaine is fully organic and has long been labelled as such. But Poudou stumbled across a hurdle when it came to bottling the 2012 vintage. The authorities now insist that the fortifying alcohol has to be organic too for the product to be labelled 'bio' and he has not so far been able to find a supplier*.

I wouldn't be too worried about vintage variation in this wine. As I say, it is pretty robust. It may not improve much with time in bottle but it shouldn't deteriorate much either. The wine is stoppered by cork but it would surely be even more convenient under screwcap.

When I used good ol' Wine-searcher to see where one could buy this marvel, I was delighted to see that it's available in the US, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and via the UK branch of Naked Wines, now stirring up a storm in the US and Australia too. (Everyone I meet in the wine business has an opinion about them. The FT, quite independently of me, even devoted a recent article to their crowd-funded model.) As per the Naked Wines system, you can read all the comments of those who have bought this wine here at nakedwines.com. The full half-litre price for the current, 2011, vintage on Naked Wines is £13.99 but for crowd-funders, known as 'angels', it is £10.49. See this thread on our Members' forum for some animated comments about this retailer.

Note that this wine is particularly good with ham and melon, and with creamy blue cheese such as roquefort. This is a wine to keep in the refrigerator.

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* I asked organic wine specialist writer Monty Waldin where organic fortifying spirit was to be found in France and he suggested David Ramnoux in Cognac country at Terre de Saveurs. And apparently the local co-operative distillery has been able to supply Poudou with organic spirit since the 2013 vintage. Phew.