After a hugely informative, if fairly exhausting, visit to the Salon des Vins de Loire we headed south to Bordeaux for a spot of castle-creeping with the Baron and Baroness d’Anglade at Chateau d’Abzac. As any fule kno, it is relatively easy to source good, classed growth Bordeaux but you get what you pay for. What is considerably more difficult is to find well-made inexpensive Claret for gratifying every-day drinking. Some well-informed and well-wishing expatriates had put us in touch with the d’Anglades and early negotiations have been fruitful – this is not a frequent occurrence  as 9 out of 10 third party recommendations disappoint. Merlot is the dominant grape here which thrives on gravelly soils, similar to nearby Pomerol. We were very impressed with the wines which are fresh, forward-drinking and sensibly priced. We hope to ship an inaugural order in the near future so watch this space for an update.

Heading South and East, via a chilly overnight stop in Agen, our arrival in Limoux co-incided with our first glimpse of sunshine, illuminating the snow capped peaks above Philippe Collin’s twenty hectare estate - Domaine Collin. Since moving down to this Cathar region from Champagne in 1980, Philippe has honed his art of producing great value Méthode Traditionelle Crémant de Limoux fizz from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. It is gratifying to meet winemakers who get on with doing what they do best, without pretension or distraction.

The cross country drive from Carcassonne to Minerve flanks the Canal du Midi and takes in some gorgeous scenery, which must be even more impressive viewed from a barge. Minerve itself is officially Un des plus beaux villages de France. We won’t argue with that, but even in the sunshine the Tramontane wind was biting. Claude Derroja of Domaine Le Cazal gave us a warm welcome and tour of his vines, including the breath-taking Pas de Zarat gorge which would be a tourist trap in any more accessible location.  A comprehensive tasting of Claude’s Syrah, Grenache and Carignan blends confirmed that the 2009 and 2010 vintages are superlative. We are beginning to get the message here. Having secured generous allocations of both, we took to the road for Béziers where whoever wrote the entry for the Hotel Imperator in our guide deserves suing! The only thing for it is a restorative bowl of Cassoulet and a bottle of Faugères at the Cep d’Or.