Wine - Roger Scruton hails the return of Jurancon

Peace comes when people plant vines, and ends when they dig for oil

When I was a young woman, wrote Colette, I made the acquaintance of a dazzling imperious prince, as treacherous as any great seducer: Jurancon. My own downhill journey began in the same way when, 40 years ago, I took a job as lecteur at the University College of Pau, and went to live across the river in Jurancon.

Pau was a centre of humanism under the angelic queen Marguerite of Navarre, author of The Heptameron, and became a Protestant enclave under her grandson Henri. Obliged, on becoming king of France, to embrace Catholicism, Henri IV nevertheless issued the Edict of Nantes, legalised Calvinism and created in his birthplace a kind of haven of eccentricity. When Wellington's peninsula campaign finally brought him to Pau, many of his mad-dog officers felt sufficiently at home there to settle on the Coteaux de Jurancon. Characters in Henry James often spend parts of their useless lives in Pau, and even in my day the town contained an English shop where two old geezers sold baked beans, PG Tips and HP Sauce, in containers whose labels had faded to a uniform parchment yellow. It came as no surprise to learn that the current mayor of Pau has decided, in response to the outrage committed by our parliament, to establish a municipal pack of foxhounds.

Peace comes when people plant vines, and ends when they dig for oil. Hence when oil was discovered beneath the coteaux, their tranquillity vanished. Fumes from the refinery at Lacq blighted our vineyards, and only the more distant reaches of the appellation escaped. Now the oil has run out, and Jurancon is beginning to re-emerge as a great wine-producing area, with a dry white made from the local Gros Manseng and a long-lasting vin moelleux made from a blend of the Gros and Petit Manseng. The latter wine owes its sweetness to passerillage - that is, pinching the stalks at the end of summer so that the grapes are deprived of sap and shrivel in the sun - and is unusual in combining luscious sweetness with a razor-sharp acidity. Hence sweet Jurancon can accompany the most savoury dishes: indeed, there is no wine more suited to cut the grease off a confit d'oie. Locals will drink sweet Jurancon throughout a meal, as it was drunk, thanks to Henri IV, during the royal banquets of France.

One of the best producers of Jurancon is the ebullient Pascal Labasse, whose wines are sold very reasonably by Yapp Brothers of Mere (01747 860 423). The dried-apricot aroma and citrus undercurrents of his vin moelleux will entice you along the path to destruction taken by me and Colette, and if you acquire the habit of closing the book of human stupidity at the end of each day with Labasse's Jurancon Sec, you might become as tranquil and harmless as one of those loafers in Henry James.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 30 May 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Why Oxfam is failing Africa