Last week I was pleasantly diverted from several days of cider consumption to a wine epiphany. Let me explain. Some nice French apple growers had invited me over to review some supposedly outstanding cider they had fermented. Alcohol is never an easy subject, either to consider or to report upon, and for someone who has always found cider rather unappetising this was indeed a challenge.

I realise that alcoholic beverages do not begin or end with a visit to the pub or a glass or two over lunch or dinner, as there are always a range of influences and responses as well as the effects of local ambience. Alcohol can provide the backbone to a successful occasion as easily as it can usurp it, it can be the star of the day or it can be little more than a tedious compunction. Most cider that I have ever tried falls firmly in the latter category, attractive as a first refreshing sip but unexciting as the draft wears on. So it was in Brittany last week, an area that I am embarrassed to admit was something of a cultural mystery to me. I had never toured its hidden lanes, stumbled upon its hilltop villages or immersed myself in its verdant countryside. I suppose the principal reason is that it doesn’t have any vines, and a landscape without vines normally means I must be lost. For every vine in Bordeaux there must be an apple tree in Brittany, apples feature as much in local cider as they do when distilled in Calvados, a few miles further east. This is not ‘wine country’, but for once that turned out to be fortuitous.

I duly filed my observations and was left to my own devices for a day or so. I had indeed found a few delightful ciders, both premier cru and brut, which were made solely from the delicate Aquataine apple. This variety is a throwback to the English occupation of the area when our own Henry tied the knot with Eleanor and the golden liquid is well worth seeking out. As for the rest, I went in search of a glass of wine to take the taste away.

As a region without an indigenous wine history, the good folk of Brittany tend to select more open-mindedly than in other parts of their country, so it was that the small wine shop near Dinan airport provided a greater than usual choice of national wine. Wines of proximate neighbourhoods such as Bourgogne and Beaujolais were in evidence as were the wines of the Loire valley to the south. Retiring to the nearby bar to consider my potential choices, I called up a Pyrex tumbler of red ‘house wine’ to see what was considered everyday drinking here. Although I tried to guess, it overpowered me. I enquired at the bar and with a shrug which clearly put me in the ‘not from around here’ category, I was told it was the Cot grape. The problem with my French is that I can construct a near credible question, which regrettably elicits a machine-gun answer, which in turn floors me. Did he really say Cot?

I needed a few moments thought before I exuded local ‘cred’ again. This was a pure variety named Cot, but only when blended in the nearby Loire valley, in Cahors it is confusingly called Auxerrois, and by its more common name Malbec, in some parts of Bordeaux. Here on a day when the weather was more reminiscent of Wales than Provence, my tumbler of warming Malbec hit the spot. As a single varietal, Malbec has recently travelled from its heartland in Cahors, to the snow-melt irrigation of the Andes foothills in Argentina. Emanating from this near perfect micro-climate, the world has recently made a beeline for these wines and I was in no doubt it had made a compelling choice. With so many ‘New World” wine regions trying to replicate some of the exciting attributes of rural French wine, South America is doing a worthy job. Should you wish to trace this inky black, densely flavoured red wine back to its source, I would heartily recommend a tumbler full to stave off our Autumnal evenings and complement the start of our game cuisine. Do seek out a Cahors with a little bottle age where possible, if only to establish the benchmark for this robust grape, and as this muscular red is normally filed under the category of turbo-charged, you may even need your knife and fork to drink it!