Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tour de France - Le Sudouest de France

On Tuesday and Wednesday Stages 10 and 11 take a relatively gentle route with just a few small category 3 and 4 climbs as the riders travel through the heart of southwest France before the first real test in the mountains on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The  route passes near Marcillac on Tuesday and includes a sprint through the village of Gaillac on Wednesday - villages that are home to two of my favorite country French red wines. Well off the beaten track and definately off the radar of most wine drinkers, I absolutely love the wines from this region for their unabashed individualistic character. Located along the river Tarn (a tributary of the Garonne, the river that eventually winds its way through the Graves and Sauternes and combines with the Dordogne at the Gironde estuary in Bordeaux), they are both some of the oldest wine regions in France. 

Marcillac is located about an hour drive north and east of Gaillac along the Tarn River. It is made mainly from Mansois, the local name for Fers Servadou, and the grape accounts for about 90% of all plantings. My favorites here are Domaine Laurens, whose red and lovely crisp rose we have stocked, and Domaine du Cros, a beautiful, juicy if slightly rustic red with crushed red fruits and hints of game and earth. This small grower had only one hectare in 1982 and made a mere 4,000 bottles per year. Today they have expanded by buying and renting vineyards with 22 hectares in production out of a total of 25ha.  

Gaillac claims to be the oldest wine region in France, with origins dating to the first century and records of Romans shipping wine down the Tarn to Bordeaux and northern Europe. The white wines are made from Mauzac, Sauvignon Blanc, Loin de L'Oeil, Muscadet and Ondenc, and are crisp, light and refreshing with floral notes. The reds are made from  local grapes Duras and Fers Servadou, but can also have Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Domaine Sarrabella is a producer seeking out both for their delicious, floral and fresh white and their deliciously rustic red.

The reds from both of these regions are the perfect "Bistro Wines" in my opinion - mid weight, slightly old world and earthy, with moderate grip and sour cherry fruit tones. They are perfect with light meat - pork, roasted chicken, duck breast "magret de canard" or classic steak and frites. Tomorrow and over the next three days the Tour heads to the mountains of the Pyrenees and some of the toughest climbs in the world - don't miss it!

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