The rare Duras vines of Bernard Plageoles in Gaillac (photo courtesy of Isabelle Rosembaum)

Emerging From the Shadows of Bordeaux

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Ancient, Tenacious Reds of South-West France

The South-west of France was once the supplier of wines to Roman Emperors, the Gauls having planted vines as early as 600 B.C. by some accounts. These days, ancient sites and expressive, elegant wines fit for the ruling classes are selling at decidedly plebeian prices. Centuries past have unified this large area of otherwise unrelated towns, terroirs, and grape varieties in their common oppression by powerful interests in Bordeaux. The current revitalization of the South-west is being led by the growers who have staked their reputations on cultivating the indigenous grapes uniquely suited to their respective landscapes.

Braucol (Fer Servadou) is grown in Gaillac’s Tarn River Valley, where during the 1960s and 70s many vines were being replaced with grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to follow perceived market demand. Robert Plageoles meanwhile began pushing back against this trend, researching and tracking down quickly disappearing plantings, among them Duras, Braucol, Mauzac, Ondenc, and the extremely rare Prunelart. Today Robert's (literally) groundbreaking work in replanting those rare vines is carried on by son Bernard and his wife Myriam. They farm organically and make ripe, pleasurable, natural wines from their rescued plantings.

Not far away from Domaine Plageoles, also north of the Tarn, is Scottish ex-pat Alan Geddes and his Parisienne wife Laurence of Domaine Mayragues, who spent 15 years restoring a 14th century chateau on a site evidently used to make wines in Roman times. Since 1999 they have farmed biodynamically, producing reds from Braucol, Duras, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon that are remarkably elegant wines given the hotter climate, perfumed and lightly tannic.

Fronton, between the Tarn and the Garonne north of Toulouse, is known for nearly exclusive cultivation of Negrette , the 'black grape,' going back to the 12th century. Grown on the poor, sandy soils sloping down to the Tarn, Diane and Phillipe Cauvin of Chateau la Colombiere grow their Negrette following biodynamic principles on a mix of siliceous and sandy soils, blending it with Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon for their Reserve bottling. These are easy, juicy, ripe wines but have complex aromatics and plenty of lift. They are also quite inexpensive.

The ‘black wine,’ however, is the purview of Cahors, where Cot (Malbec) thrives along with Tannat, on red soils with limestone rocks deposited by the Lot River. On a plateau on the edge of the appellation Gilles Bley of Clos Siguier makes a refreshingly bright, lively, and focused version of the 'black wine,' working organically and with native yeasts, low, if any, sulfur, and only small percentages of oak barrels - most of them in use for nearly a decade.

All of these wines represent immense values, many that are perfect for cassoulet, hearty stews, and other foods that help our warm winter-weary bones. Grab this opportunity to discover these reds that once stained the teeth of kings. JK

 

 

 

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Plageoles, Robert & Bernard 2012 Gaillac Braucol

Braucol, otherwise known as Fer Servadou, is a peppery grape variety that makes a relatively light-bodied wine in southwestern France. Enter the Plageoles family, who impart their signature structure to the wine in the form of a lightly tannic finish. Truly a joyful, fruit forward wine, pick this bottle of for a taste of what the wonderful Plageoles family are capable of. -msb

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  • red
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  • $18.99

Plageoles 2011 Gaillac le Duras

The vineyards of Gaillac, in the soutwest of France, date back to the first century AD, and contain many local varieties not grown elsewhere, one of which is the Duras. The Plageoles 2011 Duras is an intriguing and delicious wine with distinctive blackberry fruit, quite deep and complex, with earth and peppery spice. Serve a bit cool with a stew or strong cheeses.

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  • red
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  • $24.99

Mayragues 2010 Gaillac Clos des Mages

This is a great pick for those who love lip-smacking, chewy wines. Compared to wines from Bordeaux that often cost even $10 more, this has leaner, more elegant fruit, more focus, and more personality, but the same basic function at the table. The energetic prickle of acidity and ample structure calls out for food, so bring on the hangar steak. 70% Braucol and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon from an 14th-century estate that was restored by Laurence and Alan Geddes, who have used biodynamic practices since 1999. JK

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  • red
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  • $14.99

Colombière 2010 Fronton Réserve

The lovely 2009 Reserve is a blend of 80% Negrette and 20% Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon from 30 year-old vines. This is quite round and lush in 2009, but not at all heavy and with good acidity to balance. Blackberry fruit with hints of pepper and licorice on the palate — really a lovely wine that should be served cool and will accompany chicken, light meats, grilled pork, etc. A great value!

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  • $11.99

Colombière 2011 Fronton Réserve

A notable value for a riper red that still shows plenty of freshness and cut. Négrette, the heirloom varietal of Fronton and so-called 'black grape,' is complemented here with Syrah (10%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). Heady, complex aromatics with lots of raspberry and spice. JK

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  • $11.99

Colombière 2010 Fronton Bellouguet

Opulent, spicy, unassuming warmth that speaks of late summer days, harvest, and oozing, juicy grapes being crushed underfoot. Generous doses of blueberries and violets accompanied by lively, bright acidity. An unashamedly fruit-driven wine that is nonetheless pure and bracing. 50% Négrette, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Cabernet Franc. JK

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  • red
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  • no discount
  • $12.99

  • Organic

Clos Siguier 2011 Cahors

A juicy, medium-bodied Malbec from southwest France, this is a fantastic option for those seeking to branch out from the Argentine examples of this grape. More plummy dark fruit and more forward than the previous vintage, it's spicy, peppery, and lightly earthy with ripe, warm flavors that make it a perfect choice for your next homemade hamburger with mushrooms, onions, and blue cheese.

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  • $13.99