Drink - Victoria Moore on French wine for the English palate

The English in France are more Francophile than the French

''Attention aux sangliers," says my hostess politely as I prepare to leave: "mind the wild boar." I'm in the isolated village of Montgaillard, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, surrounded by the highest AC vineyards in Corbieres. Someone whispers unkindly that the rest of the French dismiss these mountain dwellers as cretins because of their propensity for intermarrying.

The previous day, I had lunched at the more worldly home of the winemaker at the Chateau de Festiano, in adjacent Minervois, beside trees creaking with noisy cicadas, and admiring the glistening blue of his swimming pool, the neat paint on his garage doors.

What unites these two winemakers is that each contributes wine to a local blend named Cuvee Mythique, produced by a huge organisation called Val d'Orbieu. This was founded in 1967 by Yves Barsalou, then a regional director (he later became chairman) of France's Credit Agricole bank, determined to improve quality in an area renowned for its sun, its high yields and - until recently - largely very ordinary wine.

In the past three decades, vineyards have been ripped up, yields have been reduced, old cellars fitted out with the stainless-steel trappings of modern winemaking, and winemakers with aspirations to improve their quality invited to shelter under the Val d'Orbieu umbrella.

And yet, for all this modernisation and a clear ambition to use marketing to beat the Australians at their own game, there has been some careful editing to preserve Cuvee Mythique's local character. The French are well aware that those to whom they want to sell are more Francophile than they are themselves. ("I saw some people playing boules in my village for the first time in 15 years," someone tells me. "They were English.") And so they have based the blend on Mourvedre, with Syrah, Grenache and Carignan steadied by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2000 vintage is nicely structured - none of the greedy fruit blow-out that characterises so many of the nasty, sticky new wines aimed at modern palates - and tastes of the warm Languedoc-Roussillon, with a fair, though not overbearing, amount of oak and a touch of spice. It smells of raspberries and lily stamens and herbs (the makers would, I suspect, love me to say that it smells of garrigue, the wild scrub of the south-west on which thyme, rosemary and juniper are rampant, so I'll leave that thought with you). And, at £6.49 from Sainsbury's, I'd buy it.

This article first appeared in the 29 July 2002 issue of the New Statesman, The workers are restless