Couple of years back, my good fortune took me to Gascony for a wine tour of sort by the invitation of Producteurs Plaimont. I have never had time to write about it, but there you go, something useful can come out of the lockdown.
Gascony is situated the South-West of France, near to the Pyrenees. It was home to Cyrano de Bergerac, d’Artagnan and king Henry VI of France and it is still home for the best Armagnacs. It is the far corner of the country; very rural, bucolic but astonishing with gently rolling hills and the dramatic backdrop of the Pyrenees.
We flew to Toulouse to meet our lovely guide Cèline and went straight to Auch, the historical capital of the region for a short sightseeing and lunch, then up to the vineyards near Lagardère to see some freshly budding Colombard and Manseng Noir and to taste some wine from the last years produce.
This part of France is not well-known, when it comes to wine, but has a long history of winemaking. Although you might have had something from here before because the massive IGP Côtes de Gascogne is covering most of the area, producing mainly fresh, easy-drinking everyday wines from some international varieties and blends of indigenous grapes. The region has an extraordinary array of indigenous grape varieties like, Tannat, Pinenc, Colombard, Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Manseng Noir, Tardif, Aruffiac, Petit Courbu and many more. Caves- coopératives are big around here, like Producteurs Plaimont, Château de Tariquet, Domaine de Joÿ with thousands of members they usually cultivate polycultures, rather than just vines. The scenery alternates with vineyards, pastures with ducks and ponds, cows or on occasion water buffalos(!) and wheat fields. The local ducks and foie gras are magnificent! (I know that is a controversial food, but I was assured by our guide that the ducks were not force-fed.) You surely need the wines and spirits of the region to wash down the heavy, rustic food where the salad is served with fried up duck pieces. Apropos duck pieces, I have no idea what I had (most of the time). My French is really poor. They have looked nothing I have ever had before; in the hindsight it was possibly duck off-all. Tasted fabulous though.
The area now has some more famous appellations like Saint-Mont AOC, Madiran AOC, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh AOC to name a few. They produce whites, reds, rosés and sweet white wines with great quality and some truly outstanding examples of this particular terroir.
First, we visited the Périssé’s pre-phylloxeric vineyards that dates back to 1871. That is unique and rare on its own right. You cannot find many vineyards in Europe with the opportunity of seeing vines this old. They produce a wine called Vignes Préphylloxériques cuvée from this plot in a very limited quantity (1500 bottles). In the village of Saint Mont, the Benedictine Monastery is under reconstruction, owned by Plaimont, so we had a professional tasting from their mid-to high end wines in their state-of-the-art tasting room. It was a remarkable tasting with some really outstanding items. My personal favourite was La Madeleine de Saint Mont 2013, coming from some over 100 years old plot, we had visited earlier on, that was planted right after the phylloxera.
After a lovey picnic lunch with more difficult to recognize, yet delicious duck bits, pates, breads and fresh salad we went to a Protected Landmark plot near Sarragachies, where they have over 37 varieties of ancient, indigenous grapes, some un-identifiable. They have created the largest private vine nursery using these grapes for the wines of tomorrow. Then we went to Aignan for a bit of blending fun with the person who was responsible for blending for Plaimont, who was happened to be a young lady. I shall write about that in another post. I can assure you it was very enjoyable! After the busy day we had a very interesting dinner at a water buffalo farm, near Aignan. Beautiful views, sunset, then we tried water buffalo steak. I have not mentioned yet that I am not necessarily a great carnivore. I do not like duck usually, and I can happily go on without meat for weeks on end. Somehow this trip managed to show me different aspects of wholesome cooking. I never have eaten such tasty meat dishes. I do not know why, it must have been the South-West of France, the air or the French flair of simple, country cooking.
The next day we went to Madiran, to Château de Crouseilles a picturesque château, on top of a hill with fantastic views. We visited the cellars, some vineyards around than the château itself. We had a tasting with their range of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and a vertical tasting of their Madiran. It was epic, I must say. I am quite fond of Madiran if it is good and this was really good. This was our last session before saying goodbye and heading to Bordeaux and back to the UK. I enjoyed every bit of it.
On a final thought, what I have found remarkable how the people of this region are truly welcoming, passionate about their produce let it be wine, spirit, food and cannot wait to show off their treasured heritage to the world in its entirety. So people, go to Gascony! I cannot wait to go back.
Photographs by The Tannin Addict.