For the final leg in my journey around the South of France my base was in a suburb to the north of Toulouse. This allowed me easy access to the motorway that would lead me to the Gaillac region and the historic fortified town of Cordes-sur-Ciel. I drove up to the town of Gaillac, where I conveniently found the Maison des Vins, or house of wine, attached to the Tourist Information office. This reminded me very much of the BC Wine Information Centre VQA store in Penticton, located adjacent to Penticton & Wine Country Tourist Information. Located in the old Abbey of Saint-Michel, it was beautifully situated beside the Tarn River. After getting some maps & guides in the Tourism office I wandered into the wine shop, which offered descriptions and images of the local grape varieties (some of which I had never heard of) and the opportunity to taste some of the locally-produced wines. I opted to try one white and two reds. The white was the 2011 Les Grézels Blanc Sec, a blend of Mauzac, Loin de l’Oeil and Sauvignon Blanc. It was pale, almost clear, with aromas of citrus. It was dry, with medium-plus acidity and light in body, with flavours of citrus and green fruit with a medium finish, fresh and crisp. The first red was the Cuvée Mélanie 2005 from Domaine Mas Pignou. It is a blend of 40% Braucol (also known as Fer Servadou), 10% Duras, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was medium garnet in colour with medium-plus intensity of aromas of cherry, plum, stewed fruits and some sweetness. It was dry with medium body, medium acidity and tannins with flavours of red fruits and dried cherries. It was not overly complex but very pleasant. The 2009 Burgale Rouge from Domaine de Genouillac is a blend of Fer Servadou, Syrah and Duras. It was medium ruby in colour with medium-plus intensity of aromas of dark purple fruit and a hint of tar. It was dry with medium body, medium-plus acidity and tannins and pronounced intensity of flavours of red fruit, cherry, plum, spice, and some savoury and tar notes. It had a long finish and was quite interesting. Gaillac has a very long history of growing wines; in fact the region’s tag line refers to producing wines since the year 972 – Gaillac, Grands Vins du Sud Ouest depuis 972. This was the year that the monks of Saint-Michel gained viticulture privileges from the Bishop of Albi.
I had been given some advice from other winemakers that I had met during my travels, as well as at the Maison des Vins, that if I was looking for single varietal production or monocépages I really must visit Domaine Plageoles as this is really what they specialize in, unlike most of the producers in the area who blend their wines. Domaine Plageoles has been making wine for six generations, since 1805, and focussing on the local varietals including Mauzac, Ondenc, Loin de l’Oeil, Braucol, Duras and Prunelart. Due to the deep clay and limestone soils in the region, the vines here escaped relatively unscathed from the devastation of phylloxera in the late 1800s, allowing the continuation of some ancient varietals that could have otherwise been wiped out. Domaine Plageoles is one of a small group that call themselves the “Terroirists”, who use natural/organic farming and winemaking methods with the least interference possible in order to truly express the terroir in the wine. They do not use any chemical fertilizers, herbicides, synthetic products of any kind and have farmed for the past 20 years using the Méthode Cousinié which is based on soil and vine analysis and achieving the best nutrition for the vine and soil health. My tasting began with the 2012 Mauzac, made from the Mauzac Vert (one of 7 varieties of Mauzac grown at Domaine Plageoles). It is a pale gold with a citrus nose of medium-minus intensity. It is dry with medium acidity and medium body and flavours of citrus and apricot with a medium-plus finish. The 2012 Ondenc is pale lemon in colour with medium intensity of aromas of peach and stone fruit. It is dry with medium acidity and flavours of floral, peach and citrus with a medium finish – very pleasant. The 2000 Vin de Voile is made from Mauzac Roux and is similar to a Vin Jaune from the Jura region. It is a dark gold/pale tawny in colour with oxidative qualities, aromas of nutty salinity and citrus. It is dry, with medium-minus acidity and very complex flavours including some rancio and salinity. These may not sound all that appealing, but this is a deliciously complex wine with a very long finish and I loved it! Next up was a red varietal that has been around the Gaillac region since the 1400s and is a parent of Malbec. The 2010 Prunelart is medium ruby in colour with a hint of garnet and medium-plus intensity of savoury aromas of dark red fruit with some notes of tar. It is dry with medium-plus acidity, medium tannins and medium body with flavours of prunes, liquorice, spice, leather and hints of tar. This is definitely more of a savoury wine than fruity, with a medium-plus finish. Conversely, the 2011 Prunelart is much fruitier. The 2011 is medium ruby in colour with medium intensity of fresh aromas of dark red fruit and purple fruit. It is dry with medium-plus acidity and tannins with flavours of plum, prune, spice and some hints of savoury notes. It has a medium-plus intensity of flavours and length of finish. The 2011 Loin de l’Oeil is a dessert wine whose grapes underwent passillerage where the grapes are dried out or raisinated prior to fermentation. In order to maintain the acidity in the grapes but that the grapes dry out, they pinch the stems. The wine is medium gold in colour with a pronounced intensity of aromas of honey and citrus. It is sweet and unctuous with medium-plus acidity, full body, very well-balanced with flavours of honey, peach and citrus with a lovely long finish. The 2008 Vin d’Autan is made from Ondenc Blanc and has also undergone passillerage in addition to some of the grapes being botrytis affected. It is a med-plus gold in colour with pronounced intensity of aromas of apricot, citrus and fig. It is lusciously sweet with medium-plus acidity and flavours of honey, raisin, apricot and marmalade with a deliciously long finish. Domaine Plageoles also makes sparkling wine in the Ancestral Method, which is similar to how cider is made. Unlike traditional method sparkling wine, where the base wine is put into bottle with yeast and sugar and undergoes a second fermentation to capture the sparkle of the CO2, ancestral method captures the CO2 from the primary fermentation at very cold temperatures without the addition of sugar and without disgorging, and without the addition of any SO2. The 2012 Mauzac Nature is made from a blend of Mauzac Gris and Mauzac Rose. It has a citrus nose, tiny bubbles and a bit of a cider-like taste, with flavours of apple, pear and citrus.
I made my way up to Cordes-sur-Ciel, said to be the first bastide or purpose-built fortified town, dating back to 1222. It is perched 100m above the valley on the top of the Puech de Mordagne, which has cliffs on two sides, allowing the fortified city to only have to build two walls to help in the defense of the town. Cordes-sur-Ciel gained its name change, from simply Cordes, in 1993 by the phenomenon that happens in the spring and fall where the fog from the nearby river surrounds the base of the Puech de Mordagne, giving the town the appearance of floating above the clouds (Cordes in the Sky).
Perhaps it was due to not being overrun by tourists, but I much preferred my time at Cordes-sur-Ciel over the other fortified town that I visited – Carcassonne – and highly recommend it to anybody visiting the region. I also found a shop there that I really hope one day could be a reality in Canada, if liquor regulations could be relaxed (fingers crossed and ever-hopeful!) It featured local food products, including cheeses, foie gras, preserves, olives, charcuterie and wine all in one lovely little space.
This day trip made for a wonderful close to my time in France and I do hope that I will be able to return someday not too far in the future to explore this wonderful home of vinous and culinary delights in more depth. Santé!