The Grapes of Gaillac
Loin de l’oeil (or len de l’el), mauzac, duras, braucol (or fer servadou), ondenc, the names of the grapes that make up the excellent wines of Gaillac sing an unfamiliar song. Sure, they use syrah and sauvignon blanc and muscadelle, but it’s the old grapes, and their ancient names, that really capture the imagination. In a world where all too often one bottle of cabernet tastes just like another, no matter which hemisphere it was made in, the wines of Gaillac stand apart. They’re interesting, different, delicious.
If you’re making a Gaillac wine tour, a great place to start is at the Maison des Vins, where they offer free tastings of the wines made by over 100 wineries in the region. It’s there that I learned that most of the Gaillac grapes, including those that went into some of the wines that we really enjoyed, are mechanically harvested. This surprised me a lot, since I tend to have a bias toward wines made from hand-harvested fruit.
Grapes that are mechanically harvested are roughed up in the process, which can cause them to start fermenting while they’re still in the truck on the way to the winery. Also they can’t be carefully sorted for ripeness by the harvester, and a certain amount of detritus enters the crusher along with the fruit. Although mechanical harvesting is done for economic reasons, allowing for a greater yield and a lower price per bottle, hand harvesting generally produces a higher quality finished product.
Here stems and leaves pop out of the other side of the crusher after mechanical harvesting.
The other end of the spectrum is a place like Domaine Plageoles, where every step in the wine making process is done by hand and whose wines reflect that care and attention to detail. I fell in love with their Duras, for all of their wines are monocepage, made from a single grape variety, and managed to snag a few of the hard to come by bottles to bring home.
Don’t leave the Maison des Vins without stepping into the cathedral next door, the most beautiful one I’ve seen in this region.
And then, all that tasting is going to make you hungry, right?
It’s a short walk to La Table du Sommelier, where not only can they really cook, but they do it for an amazingly low price, and they’ll recommend and serve the perfect wines to accompany your meal.
For only 13 Euros, a weekday lunch menu, I had this delicious duck salad and
this medley of bass and fresh cod in a fennel and butter sauce. It was not only a brilliant meal, eaten on their shady terrace, but we walked out of there lugging several cases of the wines they introduced us to, which made it a really wonderful find.
This is a part of France where you can eat and drink really well, which I’m busy doing myself, and which I recommend to you, if you’re looking for an out of the way corner where la vie est douce.