Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Day of Wine Tasting - Gaillac

Yesterday is was raining and a bit cold.  So instead of going to the gym we decided to head south to Gaillac, about a 45 minute drive from our house, to do some wine tasting.  

Situated in the north of the Tarn department, the Gaillac Appellation area covers 2.500 hectares spread over 73 communes, for an AOC production of over 165.000 hectolitres. Today, the appellation gathers around one hundred independent producers and 3 cooperative cellars.

There are 3 different terroirs and the age of the vineyard enable Gaillac to offer numerous traditional grape varieties. The diversity of the Gaillac vineyard means that it can produce a great variety of elaborate wines, a wide range of dry, sweet and "perlé" white wines, red and rose wines as well as sparkling wines.

Our first stop was the Maison des Vins, which is located in the Office de Tourism. It's the local place for all the vineyards to showcase their wines and you can do tastes for free. Each week they feature 3 different reds and 3 different whites for you to try and they also have the map of all the vineyards (there are 116) with information on each of them. Some don't do tastings at all, others you need to call first (in the winter) and some are open anytime between 10-12 and 2:30 - 6:00. We tasted all 3 of the reds and all of the whites and purchased one of the reds we tasted (2 bottles) and one red Bruce just picked off the shelf.

The one we tasted & purchased is a 2005 from Chateau Chaumet LaGrange. It's a combination of Braucol, Cabernet and Syrah.  The second one is a 2005 from Le Haut des Vergnades, it won the gold medal for the concours des vins de gaillac in 2007, we are going to try that tonight.

We had the map in hand and it was 2:00 so off we went in search of some vineyards. We decided to visit vineyards in the Les Plateau Cordais, which is the northern most terrior. We knew we couldn't see all 30 so vineyard in this terrior, so the woman at the Maison des Vins picked out 3 for us. One was organic, one was bio-dynamic and the other was traditional.

Our first visit was to Chateau de Mayragues, the bio-dynamic vineyard. This vineyard is owned by Alan and Laurence Geddes, There we were for the first 15 or so minutes speaking french to him and then I couldn't remember a word and asked Bruce in english and Alan answered in english. Come to find out he's scottish and bought the vineyard 29 years ago. We only tasted his reds (2006), they were really good. We bought 2 bottles.  One is their classic made with Duras & Syrah grapes.  It's fruity with hints of pepper.  The second was their Clos des Mages made with Brancol and Cabernet, it's a fullier bodied wine ages in oak for 15 months.

Having a little taste

The Chateau (their home)

Their Pigeoneer

Our next stop was Domaine de Peyres-Combe.  Their wines are organic and we tasted only reds (2005 and 2006).  We both really liked the 2005, so we bought 2 bottles here.  They use a combination of Duras and Merlot.

Our final stop was Chateau Bourguet, their vineyard is the last (most northern) vineyard in the region.  We were greated by one of the guys in the the vineyard doing some maintenance.  Then his Mom, Jean came in (she was about 40) and she was lovely.  Their vineyard is a 5 generation vineyard!  Jean took us into the cave and showed us how their wines are made, it was amazing and she was so nice.  We spent about 30 minutes with her talking and tasting.  We bought 3 reds (one is a 2006,  one is a 2007 and  the other 2007  was aged in oak), we also bought one of their whites.

That was all we could do for the day.  But this is what we came home with!  A great day.  If you have a chance to pick up a Gaillac in the states, I highly recommend them.  All of these bottes were less than 6 euros each!

What makes Gaillac so SPECIAL?

Gaillac is the second oldest, after Narbonne, wine growing region in France and has had vineyards since before the birth of Christ. Major vineyard development took place in AD 972 with the arrival of the Benedictine monks who founded an abbey in the town of St. Michel. Laws were established regarding the quality of wines from Gaillac in 1271, and in 1938, the white wines of the region were granted AOC status. In 1970, this guarantee of quality was extended to Gaillac's reds and roses.

The appellation region has three distinctly different terriors with on the right bank of the Tarn the soils tend to be molassic clayey-calcareous slopes, with sandy or gravely outcrops are at the heart of the vineyard. While to the north the Plateau Cordais has granitic and calcareous soils that are the well suited for fruity whites and subtle reds. On the left bank the soils are of pebbles, gravels, sands or "boulbenes"(soils of alluvial, sandy and clayey composition) and these are ideal for producing dense, deep red wines.

The region has seen over the past 20 years a return to the use of traditional Gaillac grape varieties such as Ondenc, Len de l'el and Mauzac in white, Fer, Duras and Braucol in red. These are often blended with classic red varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah; and whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle. As a result some unique wines are produced with characteristics not found in other regions.

Principal Gaillac Grape Varieties

red varieties :
DURAS: this is one of the oldest grape varieties, restored to favour in the last twenty years. It brings colour, suppleness and finesse, and its main characteristics are its peppery and spicy aromas.

BRAUCOL: also called Fer Servadou, this grape produces a wine high in colour, full bodied and rustic. Its very characteristic aromas evoke blackcurrant, raspberry, crumpled leaves and red pepper.

SYRAH: of mediterranean origins, this grape is best suited to well orientated plots. Used with moderation, it brings Gaillac robustness and aromatic complexity.

GAMAY: this is the only variety entitled to produce Gaillac Primeur.
It has adapted very well to the Gaillac terroir and, for many years, has enabled Gaillac Primeur to obtain national recognition (4 times the winner of the "Concours National des vins primeurs", and always in the top three).

white varieties :

MAUZAC: this is a traditional Gaillac grape, with many different aspects. It is excellent for the making of various white wines : dry, sweet, sparkling.
Its main characteristic lays in its aromas of apple and pear. It produces soft wines with low acidity, and some pure Mauzac are real jewels.
This variety only exists in Gaillac and Limoux. It is particularly suited to the making of sparkling wines.

LEN DE L'EL : its name means "Loin de l'oeil", given to this variety because its main stem is very long and the grape is therefore "far from the eye", i.e. the bud from which it was born.
This ancient variety can only be found in Gaillac. It produces a wine with a very subtle, floral or citrus fruit aroma, bringing the wine freshness and suppleness.

SAUVIGNON and MUSCADELLE complete the traditional white Gaillac vine population.

The Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée wines from Gaillac have in common one extraordinary wealth : whether dry white, "fraîcheur perlée"(delicately sparkling) or red, you can always discover, wandering in a cellar or a wine vault, exquisite finesse here, a more intense aromatic bouquet there, or even unexpected red fruit aromas.


Pale yellow with changing green glints, its intense fruit is delicately structured by bewitching aromas.It is at its best, as much colour-wise than taste-wise, when drunk cool.
The leading AOC, dry white Gaillac remains, for many, the Appellation's specificity.

"Fraîcheur Perlée" AOC GAILLAC

Its specificity : its pearl of freshness. As its name indicates, this wine keeps, after the winemaker's work, a vast quantity of very fine pearls. Their main aim is to keep the impression of freshness and also to exacerbate the natural aromas of Mauzac and Len de l'El.
Drunk cold, it is an excellent aperitif wine and goes admirably with sea food.


The Gaillac winemakers have shown, through very hard work, that the Gaillac terroirs are also very suited to the elaboration of excellent reds. Today, red Gaillac is one of the vineyard's great riches.
With its deep colour, its powerful nose, its owns subtle balance, dominated by red fruit (blackcurrant, raspberry...) and very specific touches of spice. The best cuvees of red Gaillac are usually matured in oak.


The pleasant Gaillac Primeur is our pride. Fruity and easy to drink, with its characteristic aromas, Gaillac Primeur always appear in the national competitions' top primeurs and has often been awarded the "Premier Primeur de France" title.
First AOC wine of the year, it can only be drunk from the third Thursday of November. It must exclusively be produced from Gamay and elaborated with whole, non-pressed grapes. It is a young wine and should be drunk in its year of birth.


When you ask a Gaillac producer about this AOC, he will not be able to refrain telling you about the wealth of its scents (pear, apple, peach), its unctuosity, its length and he will probably suggest the classic marriage with foie gras. But he might offer more original tasting ways : as an aperitif or with Roquefort cheese.
Born from the heart of the terroir and the oldest vines, it has brought Gaillac its renoun.


A bright cherry colour, Rose Gaillac is a fine, lively wine with fruity aromas. It is a very pleasant companion to summer lunches.


Elaborated traditionally, or with the "méthode gaillacoise", Gaillac "mousseux" will seduce you at the beginning of a meal or to finish on a sparkling note.


La Framéricaine said...

I hope you have all that info on index cards and are not just holding it in your brain. Your head is going to explode, girl! Great article!

I would love to be drinking the wine with your right this minute. 6 euros? Wow, at least in my gentille poverty, I'll still be able to drink in France.

Hugs to the hounds!

Cindy said...

Wow, that was some productive wine tour! but I don't think you did enough sipping to remember all that!

Randal Graves said...

I feel like I was just in class, but an enjoyable class. Great post, and I'll have to keep an eye out for your suggestions!

Betty C. said...

Gaillac has come a long way. When we lived in Albi, way back when, we drank nothing but. It was just starting to move up in the world. Now there are a lot of excellent ones. Great post!

Leesa said...

WOW! That's a lot of interesting info... We bought some bottles of Gaillac when we were in the Toulouse region over the summer....

Leesa said...
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Kathryn Law said...

Fantastic post! What fun to read about wine "next door" in France! Better than Italian, and that's saying something. :)

Notre Vie Juteuse said...

LF - it's all written down. Mostly info about the wines we bought and/or tasted. It's crazy too because it's just 1 small region. Next is Cahor wine just northeast of us, then Bordeaux...then some in Provence, the wine!

Notre Vie Juteuse said...

cindy - most of the time I spit it out. Took a small first sip and then finished the by only holding it in my mouth then spit! We'd have been snackered if we drank all the wine and we didn't have a designated driver.

RG - sorry about the class post. there is just so much info and so much to tell and share. it's crazy! when i went back today I did realize it was a bit wordy.

Betty - unfortunately they will never be looked at like a Bordeaux or Burgundy which is a shame but some are damn good.

Notre Vie Juteuse said...

Leesa - you have good taste my friend.

Kathryn - we'll have to introduce you to some when you come over in July.