PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 March, 1998, 12:00am

As vines get old, the grapes tend to be smaller. They also contain more sugar and flavour. It is logical, therefore, that old vines make better wine, or so vintners say.

Maybe. Anyway, the Chateau Sainte-Jeanne blend of mourvedre, grenache and carignan grapes grown in the Corbieres region comes from vines that are between 15 and 40 years old. Skilfully mixed to give a strong tannin backbone but plenty of fruit flavour, the 1994 vintage has a wonderful nose full of ginger and spice. It has been aged in oak for 10 months to take away some of the more overbearing tannic flavour.

Owned by a co-operative of local winemakers and growers, the Chateau makes a mere 40,000 bottles from 7.5 hectares.

Romans planted vineyards here in 125BC but Corbieres fell into disrepute among wine connoisseurs in modern times because it made indifferent wine in vast amounts. That has changed as new technologies and fresh thinking have infused wines of the French southwest with a new range of flavours.

At $65 from the importing firm of Caldbecks (Fax: 2637-4695) this is good value. The winemakers advise that this should be drunk at 17 degrees; I reckon that as our summer approaches, this benefits wonderfully from about 30 minutes in the refrigerator before opening.