The annual Fête Des Vins de Gaillac was held this weekend and as it was almost 20 years since I last attended and now live just 100 miles away it was a welcome opportunity to return. This photo taken at the time shows that the event then was a simpler affair but I always remember it fondly.
No less so this year though my damp shoes and muddy trousers may take some sorting out. It poured down. Most of Saturday afternoon and a little more on Sunday morning for good measure. The vines needed it but it was less than ideal for an outdoor wine tasting.
Anyway the weather failed to spoil the event which was well organised with plenty of food tents, handy cycle powered rickshaws to carry wine back to your car, (fortunately powered by someone else!) and wooden lodges for each producer with handy panels to provide a roof which was, mainly, waterproof. Certainly a step on from the tents 20 years ago. Plus free delivery within France if you bought 24 bottles, a very helpful gesture.
I enjoyed the Fête, I enjoyed some of the wines and bought two cases of various bottles. I could have bought more, so though I do have some negative comments please bear in mind that I am a fan of Gaillac and its wines. Tough love.
So, to the wines. One reason I remember Gaillac so fondly is that it was the first time I had come across white grapes such as Loin D’Oeil (sometimes written as Len De L’El), Mauzac and Ondenc and red grapes such as Duras, Braucol and Prunelart. These provided a welcome change to the Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines which dominated in the 80s and 90s. In fact local winemakers had started to take out some of these local varieties and plant the more common grapes along with Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Commercially this made sense at the time but it has left the region with a bit of an identity crisis which this weekend highlighted for me. The local varieties still dominate but winemakers differ as to the use of the new varietieses, do they use them to blend or to dominate their wines. It was noticeable that many wines are moving back to the traditional varieties, suggesting the incomers are being taken back out? Lots of different routes being taken but choice is good, there are some wines you might not like but others which you certainly will. Just a little confusing in places. More can be read about these grape varieties on this excellent site from the Gaillac wine organisation.
Some have also gone down the route of monocépage, single varietal, wines which did not show that well to my taste at least. Blends worked best and often the ones using local grapes only. Or is that my prejudice at work in that I prefer the idea of using vieux cépages?
A third issue was the use of oak. It is very common in Gaillac to age wine in wood, usually oak though some acacia barrels too. I found some good examples of well judged use of wood to enhance flavours and add complexity but there were quite a lot of wines which were dominated by the wood which had only served to dry out the wines and make them feel a little tired. There were some good, fresh wines but it seems to be a badge of honour to have used oak, you’re not a serious winemaker unless you have. Again for my personal taste I disagree.
The sheer range of wine types also offers some sense that this is a region trying to do all things. I tasted the range of wines from around 20 vignerons, around 130 wines in total. Yet I didn’t taste the sparkling wines and only a few sweet wines. There are so many different white, red, rosé, sparkling and sweet wines that I was a little lost, and that despite being based in the Languedoc with its great variety.
To add to the difficulties facing Gaillac winemakers they have suffered two fairly poor years weather wise. 2013 was bad, very wet and many reds didn’t ripen sufficiently, one owner I spoke to said she had written off all reds that year, others have reduced their production to preserve quality. 2014 was better but not much. So, the wines on show tended to be 2012 or older, interesting for the taster to drink more mature wines though, in fact, many would have offered 2012 wines in any case due to the amount of barrel ageing that takes place. I wish them well as the damage inflicted by the weather will be a big financial blow in the next few years.
The white wines were, sadly, mostly disappointing. The weather should have made less difference to these in 2013 and 2014, the vintages which were usually being shared here. Loin D’Oeil and Sauvignon Blanc blends dominated but somehow lacked a fresh edge. This was true even in the perlé wines, the local speciality where fermentation is stopped to leave some sugars to ferment a little in bottle and produce a spritz or pearl of bubbles, And then there were the oaked whites, often dominated by the wood. Nevertheless, there were some very nice white wines. Mauzac was often behind some of my preferred wines, a grape I normally associate with Limoux sparkling wines. That was a concern to me as I am not a fan of Limoux sparkling wines but Mauzac proved to be a grape which really attracted me.
Best white wines for me:
Labastide de Levis, the cooperative, – Homage A La Truffe Blanche 2014, Loin d’Oeil, Mauzac and Sauvignon Blanc with 4 months in wood. Very zesty, very fresh with a big grapefruit aroma, well made and very good. 11,50€
Clos Rocailleux, only 4 years old but producing some of the best wines on offer at the Fête. Their Reserve Blanc 2012 is 100% Mauzac from old vines and was a wine I bought. White fruits, round with a clean, direct finish. Lovely. 10€
L’Enclos Des Roses, Blanc Sec 1er Cotes, once again 100% Mauzac. The vintage was 2009 as the producer stocks her wines until she feels they are ready, a brave and no doubt expensive decision but it certainly paid off here. This was round, appley and fresh but long with almost creamy and toasty notes developing from some oak age. 13,80€
Castel de Brames, Len De Lel 2013, fresh, white stone fruits, almost liquoricey finish. 6€
Domaine Rotier, Renaissance 2012, Loin D’Oeil with 30% Sauvignon Blanc, white fruits, peachy and a clean, direct and fresh finish. 11,40€
Domaine De Lamothe, Blanc Sec 2014, Sauvignon Blanc and Mauzac, nice dry, clean and zesty. I liked their Perlé 2014 too, it was much drier than others at the Fête with a real spritz. Fresh. clean and quite long. Both of these wines were just 3,80€, real bargains.
Domaine De Brin, Pierres Blanches 2014, Mauzac and Len De L’El. Very round and full, long flavours of white fruits and a dry, clean finish. Natural wine, tiny amount of SO2 added at bottling, but would please non natural fans. 12€
Rosés were possibly the unexpected star of the show for me. I like dry, citrussy rosés which really do refresh, preferably with a little texture and body from contact with the red grapes. And that’s what I found in many cases. Perhaps the red grapes which suffered in 13 and 14 had been used to make the rosé quality higher but they were, more commonly, of a good standard. Highlights included:
Clos Rocailleux, Rosé Braucol 2013 and Rosé Duras 2014. The Braucol was textured, fresh yet full, good rosé at 6€. I actually preferred the Duras with a little more zesty character and plenty of red fruit flavours. 8, 50€ and well worth it, indeed I bought some.
Domaine D’Escausses, Sous La Tonnelle 2014, fruity, round with strawberry notes but a clean finish, 5,10€
L’Enclos Des Roses, Rosé Des Roses 2014, Duras and Braucol with a very dry, zesty character, almost citrussy. 6,50€
Domaine De Brin, La Vie En Rosé 2014, Gamay with full flavours of ripe, red fruit, lovely dry finish with a long lasting strawberry note. Good, I bought some. 6,50€
Red wines provided the very best single wines however, though not always consistently. It was interesting to hear Duras described by different producers as either rustic and big or light and elegant, another example of the differences between the wines of Gaillac. Braucol was the other main grape used, this is often known as Fer Servadou in other areas of South West France. At their best the wines offered complexity, good red fruits, soft tannins and long flavours often with spicy, interesting aromas. My favourites were:
Clos Rocailleux, the Classique 2012 was good with a real balance between fruit, freshness and depth of flavour. Nice, long, very well made red wine with interesting flavours from Syrah and Braucol, good at 7€. Even better was the Réserve 2012 with Braucol added to the Syrah and Duras and 9 months barrel ageing. Here the wood added to the roundness and flavour, it was a nuance not a dominant flavour, chapeau to Jack and Margeret for learning to use the barrels so well so quickly.
Domaine Ramaye / Michel Issaly, is a natural wine producer whose wines I had tasted before. Vrille 2013, Braucol, Prunelart and Duras produce a raspberry, fruity and very long flavour which was fresh with complexity. 14€. La Combe d’Avès 2009, Braucol and Duras was also fresh and round wearing the years very well and the 24 months of barrel ageing were discreet, 16€. Le Grand Tertre 2012 is 85% Prunelart with some Duras. Aromatic, almost perfumed with deep rich fruits, very good though 25€. Top of the range is Le Sang 2012 85% Braucol and the rest Prunelart, raised ina variety of new and older barrels. Very deep, complex and long, 45€. Fair to say I really enjoyed all of these and they showed off the local varieties very well. A perfect riposte to those who say that natural wines mask the true varietal flavours.
Domaine Rotier are organic producers who now make a nice natural red, Esquisse 2014, classic fresh notes and raspberry fruits, not obviously natural this would appeal to those wanting to try a natural wine, 8,60€. The Renaissance 2012 is raised in oak from Duras, Syrah and Braucol. Round, full red fruits, eg strawberry, fresh and very good, 12,10€. I prefer this to their top of the range L’Ame 2010 which is much bigger and complex, 24,40€.
Domaine De Brin, I liked Vendemia 2013 but preferred Anthocyanes 2013, Braucol and Syrah showing well with a perfumed nose of red fruits and forest fruits. Round and long it developed very nicely, 10€, no rush to drink up. Brin De Temps 2013 of Duras and Cabernet Sauvignon had deep, spicy notes with round fruits and long lasting too, 14€. Proof that even in 2013 good wines could be made, clearly a very talented winemaker.
L’Enclos Des Roses, Roses 2008, further proof of the benefits of ageing. This showed no sign of being old or tired, it had fresh, dark fruits and is very well balanced. 12€.
There were some very good sweet wines and one example of a rarity a Vin De Voile. Vin De Voile is a white wine aged in barrels where a layer of yeast is allowed to cover the wines as they evaporate in barrel. The yeast prevents the wine from being completely oxidised but there is some which adds nutty, sherry like flavours. I really like this style of wine, like the vin jaune of the Jura region. So it was a treat to taste one at Michel Issaly’s Domaine La Ramaye. Almond and hazelnut aromas with dry, nutty flavours and long, complex after tastes. Lovely.
My favourite sweet wine was also unusual. Made from very very late picked Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, it was a sweet rosé wine from Domaine de Brin called Brin De Folie 2014. Sweet strawberry flavours and yet clean, refreshing after tastes. A great credit to the winemaker to make something so good from such an unusual circumstance.
And there lies Gaillac’s great hope. There are many talented winemakers harnessing the best of the area. Unusual grape varieties which should offer the market something different. Making the most of those flavours and aromas, letting them speak for themselves rather than too much oak, whilst concentrating on providing well balanced, refreshing wines. That is what I like about producers such as Rotier, de Brin, Ramaye, Rocailleux but many others too. There are some interesting stories about some of these producers too. Rocailleux with its English owners who are following up their interest and studies in wine and making some of the best wines in the area. D’Escausses and Enclos Des Roses owned by two sisters who run their domaines separately but help each other. Rotier was my favourite domaine 20 years ago and remains one of the best. De Brin is certainly one to follow. I wish them plenty of good weather for a successful 2015 vintage. Meanwhile look out for Gaillac wines, especially from these producers.