The Hidden France – A Holiday Snapshot Part One
My wife, for reasons I cannot fully understand, generally insists that we holiday in places not noted for producing wine. As she is part-Danish this means Denmark every few years, interspersed by visits to France, and occasionally San Fransisco, where my sister lives. Her efforts to avoid vineyards are not always very successful. Last year in a summer house on the north coast of Denmark, we visited the farm shop a kilometre up the road to buy the evening’s veg. On arrival I spied a field full of vines! The farmer grew no less than twelve different varieties of grape. Sadly, most of the wine had sold out, so I cannot tell you what it was like. The two Danish wines I have tasted have been interesting, but expensive.
This year we went to two lesser-known regions of France. I love rural France; for me it has a special atmosphere and usually an interesting history. Both the Aveyron and the Ariège are picturesque regions, sparsely populated, but with plenty to do. Naturally I managed to dig out a few interesting wines too.
Marcillac & Gaillac
We spent the first week in the Aveyron, an hours drive north-east of Toulouse. Parts of the region are stunningly beautiful; rolling green and gold hills, a mixture of maize, sunflowers, pasture and deciduous forest, with the occasional medieval bastide town sitting on top of a steep mountain. Some parts, such as the town of Cordes-su-Ciel, are fairly touristy, but the rest is wonderfully peaceful. The weather is generally cooler than the coast, a perfect (for me) 20-30°C, with gentle breezes.
We had visited here before, but this year, I tried to discover a little more about Marcillac, a small little-known wine appellation spread out over a dozen or so communes to the north-west of the town of Rodez. There are a mere 150 hectares of vines there now, although in the 19th century, there were over 5,000 hectares. In the town of Villefranche-sur-Rouergue, I bought a couple of different bottles in a fois gras shop/museum near the city-centre. A few days later, I popped in to Domaine du Cros, a small estate about which I had heard good things. Philippe Teulier was on his lunch-break, but his mother kindly gave me a quick tasting. I bought a mixed case of the wines. The winery, built on several levels, and attached to the house, is fairly basic, but has a spectacular view out over the valley.
Marcillac is made from Fer Servadou, or Mansois as it is known locally. Entry-level Marcillac is delicious juicy, thirst-quenching wine, light in alcohol, with lip-smacking fresh summer fruits, some acidity, and no real tannins. Served cool it goes really well with charcuterie and lighter meat dishes. Locally it is served with Aligot, a rib-sticking mashed potato and cheese dish, and the local lamb. I tasted my way through half-a-dozen Marcillac. The basic wines were as described above, but the more expensive wines had real intensity and quality, whilst retaining that lightness of touch. See below for tasting notes.
Later in the week, I paid Domaine Plageoles in Gaillac a visit, and tasted the entire range of wines with Florent Plageoles, son of Robert. This estate has been a major force in rejuvenating Gaillac, producing high quality wines using almost entirely local grape varieties, many of which were in danger of extinction. Robert’s father Bernard, who worked as a researcher on grape varieties, founded the estate in the early 1980’s. I was greeted by a rather fearsome-looking Boxer, but it turned out all he wanted to do was lick my toes. I bought a mixed case of wines, including some real finds, such as the Mauzac Nature and a Vin de Voile, a sort of Sherry-style wine (actually more like a Vin de Paille from the Jura), and really enjoyed them over the holiday. They were bigger richer than the Marcillac, with relatively high levels of alcohol, often 14-14.5%.
All of the wines bar four are fermented and aged in cement tanks, the remainder in old oak. Plageoles has two estates, with different soils. Around the winery they are limestone and clay. Four kilometres north, around Bernard’s house they are marl and clay with silica, better suited to reds. See HERE for tasting notes.
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