Disrupting the status quo with a thinking Mountain Man and
a descendant of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote

by Tom Fiorina on June 24, 2014

Poster_webThe 1st of June was a spectacular Sunday in southwestern France. It was a perfect day for a motorcycle ride in the Gers department just an hour west of Toulouse. Even better, a natural wine-tasting was being held in Simorre, a quiet village filled with half-timber, Medieval houses and a fortified church left over from the 100-year war fought between the French and the English.

The tasting was organized by my favorite French wine magazine, Le Rouge et le Blanc (“The red and the white”). Eight “Bio” (organic) and Biodynamic wine estates from southwestern France appellations were presenting their wines. Nine estates were originally scheduled for the tasting, but, unfortunately, the Domaine Haut-Campagnau from the Gers had bowed out at the last moment. This was a disappointment as I had enjoyed meeting the owner, Dominique Andiran, at a wine show in Montpellier last year. This bon vivant makes some of the most interesting natural wines in the Gers’s Côtes de Gascogne appellation. However, I did see some other familiar faces there, including Florent Plageoles, the son of Bernard Plageoles of Domaine Plageoles, along with his wife Sandra and their one-year-old son Marcel.

'Le Barbu': Fabien Jouves from Mas del Périé in Cahors.

‘Le Barbu’: Fabien Jouves from Mas del Périé in Cahors.

I was particularly impressed with wines from two of the participating estates. The first was Mas del Périé, a 25-ha vineyard in Cahors. A young, bearded winemaker named Fabien Jouves has converted the family estate, which previously provided bulk grapes to a wine cooperative, into a biodynamic vineyard. The property sits on the highest plateau in the Cahors appellation. The 300m-high elevation helps to bring considerable freshness to his wines, which include several parcel-selection cuvées made from Cahors’s signature Côt grape, better known as Malbec.

These premium wines come from vines planted on clay-limestone soil, with slight variations in the soil consistency. The grapes for the Escure cuvée (€11) come from a parcel with a large percentage of gravel. Like gravel-based soils in the Bordeaux wine region just west of Cahors, the Escure wine is round and elegant. Dark purple in color, with black highlights, the nose on the 2013 vintage was intense, smelling of very ripe cherries accented with a slight lactic sourness. Unusual for such a young Cahors Malbec, this wine has soft, luscious tannins. Jouves obviously takes care pressing the grapes to not over-extract this variety’s notoriously hard tannins. Delicious red fruit flavors, spices and tobacco accents support the tannins that are present, and the wine has a pleasantly long finish. This wine represents great value for the money. Unfortunately there’s not much of the 2013 vintage available, as hail destroyed 80% of the Mas Del Périé grapes that year.

The two other parcels used to make the estate’s top Malbec wines are La Roque (which has particularly deep clay deposits, giving this cuvée even more structure and greater tension) and Les Acadias (the same clay-limestone with lots of iron deposits, producing a denser, spicier and more mineral wine). These last two wines are made from older vines than the Escure cuvée—25- to 35-year-old vines for La Roque and 50-year-old vines for Les Acadias. Unlike the Escure wine, which never sees any wood, these other two wines are aged in already-used oak barrels. The value-for-money is still good, with La Roque costing €14.50 and Les Acadias costing €25.

Jouves makes a higher-priced 100% Malbec—the €49-a-bottle La Pièce. This wine is more elegant, with more of everything, including older vines, longer aging period (23 months vs 10-22 months for the three aforementioned wines), larger aging barrels (400L vs 250L), and a wine with an even bigger structure and increased complexity. Only 1,000 bottles of La Pièce wine are made each year.

Florent Plageoles with son Marcel, the next-generation vigneron at Gaillac's Domaine Plageoles.

Florent Plageoles with son Marcel, a next-generation vigneron at Gaillac’s Domaine Plageoles.

He also makes a number of unusual wines, including a Jura Vin Jaune-style, oxidized wine from the Chenin grape, called the Orange Voilée (“voile” for the veil of yeast that forms at the top of the wine while it ages in an oak barrel, protecting it from extreme oxidation). There is also a Cabernet franc-Côt blend; an amphora-aged Malbec; and another red wine that is made from the relatively rare Jurançon noir grape that is grown through parts of the southwest.

It’s an interesting selection. There’s obviously a lot going on under that full head of hair and mountain man beard. He uses very little or no sulfites in his wine, indigenous yeast do the fermenting, and all of his wines are unfiltered. They taste alive and with a freshness and tension that is not always found in Cahors. It’s worth watching this young winemaker, as he has the imagination and market awareness to make even more-interesting wines in the future.

The other interesting wines that I tasted came from the Domaine Le Bouscas in the Gers. I had never heard of either the vineyard or its owner, a man named Floréal Romero. He wasn’t there, but his wife was. She had neither business cards nor brochures, which are normally de rigueur for these types of public tastings. What she did have were excellent wines at unbelievable prices.

Cuvée 100 noms

Cuvée 100 noms

A cuvée called 100 noms (because, she told me, that was the number of “Likes” received on Facebook when they released this new wine) is made from a blend of Colombard and Ugni blanc, This pale yellow wine has a fruity (apple and very ripe peach) nose, and the fresh fruit impression continues once you’ve tasted it. There’s less acidity than the typical Côtes de Gascogne white because the wine undergoes a malolactic fermentation (MLF), in which tart-tasting malic acid is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid. Although MLF is commonly used for red wines, it’s rare to see it used on whites. In fact I’ve never come across it in a Côtes de Gascogne white before. Most of the winemakers in the appellation seek a tarter, more acidic profile in their white wines. Having undergone the MLF, the cuvée 100 noms has a rounder, fuller mouth-feel. But it still has good freshness to it, and, at €6 a bottle, I may have found my aperitif wine for the summer.

Floréal Romero grew up in Paris, but he’s Spanish in origin (in fact his family is descended, his wife told me, from Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote). He purchased the 9-ha vineyard in 2000 and immediately eliminated the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers.

The other Domaine Le Bouscas wines that I tasted were a 100% Colombard called Maeva, which is more aligned with the idea of a Côte de Gascogne white wine—electric acidity and fresh fruit flavors; a late-harvest, sweet white named Dulcinée (the French name for one of the characters from Don Quixote), which is made from botrytised Colombard grapes (you don’t even notice the +100gr of residual sugar because of the wine’s excellent acidity); and a well-balanced, elegant 100% Tannat named Sang Chaud.

The Maeva costs just €7, a 50cl bottle of the Dulcinée costs €17 (an extremely reasonable price for such a sweet, liquoreux wine), and the Sang Chaud is priced at only €8. All of the aforementioned prices are what you pay at the vineyard; with shipping, export duties, taxes, etc., the retail price will, naturally, be higher.

At those prices, I will be heading back to the Gers soon. I just need to find a way to carry more bottles on my motorcycle.

Following the wine tasting, a "local" made rhymes and jokes, using subjects provided by the people in attendance. I had never seen this before, and I believe that it must a Gascon custom. Many of the people hadn't been spitting out the wine during the tasting, so the atmosphere was quite merry. Those on two wheels, however, were more careful about their consumption.

Following the wine tasting, a “local” made rhymes and jokes, using subjects provided by the people in attendance. I had never seen this before, and I suspect that it must a Gascon custom. Many of the people hadn’t been spitting out the wine during the tasting, so the atmosphere was quite merry. Those on two wheels, however, had to be more careful about their consumption.

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