Gascony Wines Part Three: A Taster’s Guide
In Part One and Part Two of this Guide to Gascony Wines, we covered the history and geography of this ‘ancient and modern’ wine-making area in South West France, summarised in our explanation of the concept of Terroir. Now in Gascony Wines Part Three, we will introduce you to some of the Gascon wines and winemakers we know. It is said that: ‘a winegrower tells the story of their vineyard through the wines they make from it’. This certainly applies to the authentic ‘country wines’ of Gascony. Every place mentioned below has a personal story to tell, of course, one that is not really understood without visiting…
WINES AND GRAPES
Gascony produces red, rosé and white wine. The grape varieties used for red and rosé wine are: Abouriou, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Duras, Négrette, Portugias bleu, Tannat, Fer and Malbec. For white wine they are: Colombard, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Muscadelle, Len de l'El, Chardonnay, Petit Courbu, Sauvignon blanc, and Sémillon; Ugni blanc and Folle blanche are used mainly for Armagnac. This is an extraordinary range, a bit like the colours on an artist’s palette. Many of these are ancient varieties are used only in the South West. One of the skills of the Gascon winemaker is the ability to combine these ancient varieties with the more modern or better known. For example:
Chateau Pellehaut, located north of Montreal du Gers, an excellent vintage wine called Les Marcottes, which is a Merlot-Tannat blend, recognised as one of the best Gascon reds. Tannat (the ‘new Malbec’) is a local grape originally from the Basque area between France and Spain and now the basis of all AOC Madiran red wines. The Beraut family have lived here for 400 years. Now the brothers Martin, in the winery, and Mathieu, in the vineyard, run the family estate with great skill and respect for the traditions of their home. Pellehaut makes a fascinating white wine using Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blamc, Gros and Petit Manseng grapes, called ‘Ampelomeryx’, the scientific name of a deer-like herbivore that roamed over Pellehaut lands around 20 million years ago.
Martin and Mathieu Beraut
Family-owned Domaine Horgelus, south of Montreal du Gers, makes a delicious dry, fruity white, packed with flavour, from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc & Colombard grapes. The Domaine is run now by Yoan Le Menn, the fifth generation of his family to make wine. Yoan is one of the younger generation of trained oenologues who know perfectly how to combine modernity and experience.
Yoan Le Menn
Domaine de la Tuillerie, close to Auch, has a 10Ha vineyard managed by father and son, Joel and Maxime Pellefigue. Joel’s grandfather was a Gascon farmer who found traces of Roman winemaking and the making of ‘amphora’ on his land. Acting on this evidence, he planted the first vines in about 1900. Today his great, great grandson has produced a new ‘Cuvee des Romains’ using the Syrah grape. The other wines in the range, made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, are called: Domaine de la Tuillerie, La Romane, L’Amphore, and L’Oppidum.
Joel and Maxime Pellefigue
Chateau de Millet, near Eauze, is another 5 generation Gascon vineyard, currently owned by Francis et Lydie Deche, who have recently been joined by their daughter Laurence, one of the increasing number of talented young female winemakers in Gascony. Millet is well-known locally for its excellent Armagnacs.
Domaine du Tariquet, has a fascinating story of an extraordinary family and an extraordinary property. Bought by the French female side of the family in 1912, things changed when Helene Artaud married Spanish Pierre Grassa in 1939, taking over a 50Ha property. Two of their children Maïté and Yves joined the business, starting to expand Armagnac production in the 1970s. This led to making the first Tariquet white wines in the 1980s, and the establishment of Tariquet by the brilliant Yves Grassa as a pioneering Gascon wine business. Now Yves’ sons Armin and Rémy have joined and are making quality red, wines. Tariquet led the way in Gascony by combining skilled wine making with commercial intelligence: “Our success confirms our strong position as a producer of wines that meet consumer demand… and drives our ambition to continue doing so.”
After 100 years and 5 generations of continuous hard work, the Grassa/Tariquet enterprise now exploits about 1000Ha if vineyards and is the largest independent, family-owned wine business in Europe, selling its wine all over the world and on Amazon. When in Gascony you should try the Tariquet late-harvested wines called ‘Les Premieres Grives’ or ‘Les Dernieres Grives’ (the First or Last Thrushes, meaning that the grapes are picked in competition with the thrushes!). Many other Gascon properties have copied Tariquet in making these slightly sweet, light and fruity white wines, delicious as an aperitif, with foie gras or with puddings.
Three generations of the Grassa family
Armin and Remy Grassa
Plaimont Co-operative. Alongside Tariquet, the other major force in Gascon winemaking is the Plaimont cooperative, which was formed in the 1970s by the inspiration of André Dubosc – a third-generation wine grower. He and other passionate young winegrowers revived the Saint Montappellation and gave a new breath of life to the Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, made from late-harvested grapes. Today, Plaimont represents 800 growers managing over 5000Ha of vines. Where Plaimont is unusual is that as well as its excellent commercial blended wines (produced for many UK supermarkets) it makes several individual single-estate wines, especially from the Saint-Mont and Madiran appellations, that can compare with the best.
And a final story from Gascony:
Plaimont has done a lot of work on finding and rebuilding the stocks of very old or ‘lost’ grape varieties to strengthen the biodiversity of the region. One fascinating story is the discovery of a small block of 600 vine stocks at Sarragachies, which were planted before 1830 and were not affected by the phylloxera which decimated a great many of the French vineyards in the 1870s. These vineyard is the oldest in France in productive condition and has now been registered as a French Historic Monument because of its extraordinary biological heritage value.
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