A return to winegeek territory!
During my studies, the Sud-Ouest was without a doubt the most frustrating region to get a grip on. The diversity in appellations and varieties as well as the relative scarcity of these wines in Belgium made it very difficult to retain a lot for the long run. It is a shame really, as there is so much to discover. I have great memories of a 1998 Chateau Montus (Madiran), continue to be charmed by everything that comes out of Jurancon, and, after a terrific tasting organized by a fellow sommelier-conseil just before Christmas, have set myself a quota of Cahors to discover this year.
Today’s focus will be on Gaillac, which is the third biggest subregion following Bergerac and Cahors. Honestly, it is a clusterfuck of appellations and permitted styles: white dry, white sweet (traditional), white sweet (vendange tardive), vin blanc perlé, sparkling méthode ancestrale, rosé, red, red primeur and vin de voile! 9 different type of wines entitled for a Gaillac AOP. Given that there are also a couple of grape varieties that you will find nowhere else, you can hopefully understand that it is a bitch to learn if you’ve never actually been there.
In all fairness, this diversity should be applauded, as it is an indicator of a long history. In fact, it is one of the oldest winegrowing regions in France. Like other subregions in the Sud-Ouest however, it’s still struggling to recover from the devastating blow dealt by phylloxera in the 19th century. What I think will be its saving grace is the pride of several growers, determined to protect their indigenous varieties and techniques.
Domaine Plageoles has been around for two centuries and is a veritable treasure trove of ‘lost’ varieties. Ondenc, Verdanel and Loin de l’Oeil are some of the varieties that you can still find here. I have tasted a couple of the estate’s wines, and am particularly charmed by what it can do with Mauzac, the go-to variety for white Gaillac wines. Even so, Plageoles has seven different types of Mauzac planted in their vineyards. One of them, the Mauzac roux is used for an oxidative wine, today’s Vin de Voile 2000. The wine is left in the barrels without topping these up for the part of the wine that evaporates over time. A ‘voile’, a layer of yeast cells appears on top, resulting in a controlled oxidation. Attentive readers will recall that I have talked about such a wine in the past: The Tokaji Szamorodni 2003.
This type of oxidative wines is often characterized by an enormous aromatic complexity, and an intense, dry mouthfeel. This Vin de Voile sure delivers with hints of spicy honey, a lot less nutty than I would have expected, and very very floral notes. On the palate the best description I can come up with is savoury, mouthwatering dry but not as lean and focused as I am used to with Jurassic Vin Jaune. It is quite rich in style actually, but clean and fresh in the finish.
As a bonus, Domaine Plageoles’ Prunelard 2013! Prunelard is ancient and actually an ancestor to Cot (malbec) which is the key grape in nearby Cahors. There is very little of it left, about 30ha I’d guess, and it is only permitted in IGP Cotes du Tarn, probably as there is so very little of it. The wine itself is a bit muted as first, prunes and a bit rustic on the palate on the first day, yet drinking along nicely at the same time. Very different on the second day with liquorice and spiciness, especially on the nose. Aromatically it is a wintery wine, warming yet low in alcohol, the tannic structure and density on the palate would make it the perfect match for a big, juicy cut of boar!