Last night we tried this, a souvenir from a visit to Gaillac back at the start of August. Gaillac is quite a large appellation to the north-east of Toulouse. It produces a full range of wines from lightly sparkling (usually labelled ‘perle’) made by the méthode ancestrale, to dry, crisp whites, rustic and spicy reds and beguiling sweet styles. After Cahors and Madiran it is probably the most widely known of the somewhat obscure South-West French wines. Archaeological evidence suggests that this was one of the first areas in ancient Gaul given over to wine production, possibly even pre-dating the Romans. Grapes allowed in the appellation are as follows:
Mauzac – Apple skin aromas, high acidity
Len de l’el – A local speciality, which must form (in conjunction with mauzac) at least 40% of any grape blend for appellation status. Powerful but tends towards flabbiness. The name is a corruption meaning ‘far from the eye’ as the grapes have long stems and hang lower down than most.
Ondenc – Almost became extinct due to poor record against rot and poor yields. Adapts well for sweet wine production (and ageing) to judge on the evidence of the 1993 Gaillac Doux from Robert Plageoles I and seven friends eagerly consumed back in May this year.
Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle are also allowed.
Duras – Fiercely defended local variety, buds early so prone to the vagaries of the spring weather but provides good structure and acid once ripe.
Fer Servadou – Another local variety also known as fer, braucol, brocol and pinenc. Fer is French for iron and in this instance, refers to the vine’s wood rather than the wine it makes. Makes wines of deep colour and concentration. In conjunction with Duras it must make up at least 40% of the final blend for appellation status. ie: 39% Duras, 1% Fer + 60% other permitted varieties = appellation criteria.
Much more familiar grapes are also grown and allowed in the appellation; Gamay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
The bottle in question we had is 100% Fer Servadou from 2006. Even the producer can’t decide what to call this grape as he mentions it’s also called Braucol on the back label. Harvested from two plots and aged for 12 months in barriques (no mention of their age, I suspect a small amount of new wood and a combination of second and third use ones). Non-filtered, though we found no sediment, it should be capable of 10 years in bottle according to the slightly disinterested lady in Gaillac’s Maison du Vin where we purchased it. (about 15 euros if I remember rightly).
Despite it’s three years of age it was still vibrantly purple on the rim and pretty much opaque. The nose was moderately intense with notes of damson and wild blackberry. In the mouth a brisk attack, plenty of ripe tannic structure, quite astringent at first but a couple of hours in the decanter seemed to soften it. The tannins became quite meltingly soft with food, a hint of the polish that new oak can bring perhaps? It finished with more dark fruit and an impression of firmness. Dark, strong and powerful were the overall impressions. Not bad at all but very little to compare it against given the paucity of good Gaillac available in the UK. I’d buy it again.
We drank it alongside some good sausages and my attempt at Thomas Keller’s confit byaldi, something I’ve wanted to try for a while but seems seasonally correct right now. It’s a fiddley dish, requires a fair amount of time and I was very thankful for a mandolin, despite the inevitable finger-slicing it brought me. The end result is well worth it though.
Incidentally, the process of making the confit byaldi led me to find one of the best greengrocers in north London, Newington Green Fruit and Veg, a really impressive range of high quality veg, including the difficult to find yellow squash/courgette that is an essential part of the dish. Their stand was heaving with beautiful plum tomatoes which I shall have to get some more of for roasting and turning into pizza/pasta sauces. The first nobbly skinned squashes of the year were being unloaded when I arrived so apparently it really is autumn, somehow wines like the L’enclos des Braves seems the proper accompaniment to the season.