Gaillac Wine - Appellation and Vineyards
Gaillac Wine, one of the best kept secrets
Go into virtually any wine outlet – small independent, large chain, supermarket – and see if you can find a bottle of Gaillac wine.
Any bottle – red, dry white, dessert, rosé, sparkling – you’ll be lucky!
Ask the wine buyer if he or she has heard of Gaillac wine and maybe, just maybe they will have heard of it, but more probably not.
Google stockists of Gaillac wine in the UK and you may find two or three.
But why such hiding of lights under bushels?
Gaillac wine may not be grand cru classé but neither are the prices.
In all its versions – and I will get to them – it is most eminently drinkable, fun and fruity at the lower end, elegant and structured at the upper, and Gaillac is reputedly the oldest wine-producing region in France.
Let’s begin at the beginning with some facts and some history.
You probably don’t even know exactly where the appellation is to be found.
Gaillac is a small, but very lively, market town in Southwest France in the department of the Tarn situated on the banks of one of France’s most dramatic rivers.
The Tarn is one of the largest departments in France, steeped in history and characterized by an enormous variety of landscapes.
It is this variety, both human and geographic, that gives Gaillac wine its unusual quality.
Gaillac (from the Latin gallus meaning rooster) was founded in 972AD, but the Romans first planted the vines that make up the appellation in the first century BC.
The wine was developed by the Benedictine monks and graced the best medieval banquets and was much enjoyed by kings Henri III and Louis XIV.
In 1938 the vineyards of Gaillac were among the first to be accorded the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée.
So, quite a pedigree.
Gaillac’s location in so varied a geographical area and on such varied geological strata results in three very distinct vine-growing terroirs.
The left bank of the Tarn has gravelly, pebbly, sandy and slightly acidic soils known as boulbènes.
The hillsides of the right bank above the Tarn valley enjoy southern exposure and mainly limestone and clay soils.
Finally the plateau of Cordes above Gaillac between the village of Cahuzac-sur-Vère and the medieval bastide of Cordes-sur-Ciel (definitely worth a visit with its dramatic hilltop setting and artists’ ateliers) consists of white granite and calcareous soils and a high content of limestone.
The climate too is an amalgamation of oceanic warmth that brings the vines a good water supply and reduces the risk of frost in winter and spring and Mediterranean heat brought in on the warm Autan wind in the summer and autumn.
Gaillac Wine - AOC qualities
The ancient history and variety of terroir means that the Gaillac appellation is based on some very distinctive grape varieties.
For example the whites are produced from Ondenc, Mauzac, Loin d’Oeil and Verdanel grapes, and the reds from Braucol, Duras and Prunelart.
You will also meet more familiar varieties such as Sauvignon, Syrah, Gamay and Merlot.
The AOC consists of seven distinct varieties.
1- You’ll find the dry whites and the ‘Perlé’, a dry white wine with a hint of sparkle.
2- The dessert whites are produced from Mauzac and Loin d’Oeil grapes, for which the appellation is particularly known.
3- The sparkling wines are made with Mauzac grapes using the méthode ancestrale, where the Gaillac wine is bottled while it still contains unfermented sugar.
4- You’ll find reds, rosés and the red ‘Primeur’, a fruity and easy to drink wine made with Gamay grapes and only available after the third Thursday in November.
There are some 112 vignerons producing Gaillac wine (AOC) of which a significant percentage is organic.
At the last organic wine festival in December, there were more that 60 wines from 16 exhibitors.
And more are joining their ranks each year!
Discovering Gaillac Wine
So where do you begin with so much embarras de richesses?
I confess I have not drunk my way round all 112 and I would not set myself up as a wine connoisseur.
But perhaps a good place to start is in some of the excellent local restaurants (some are Michelin starred) that serve some of the best-known Gaillac wines (AOC) outside the region.
Some winegrowers were game and adventurous enough to introduce organic wine in the area when the whole organic approach was considered odd and cranky.
But you’ll have to come here to get it.
One way of getting round as many vignerons as possible is to drive the Circuit des Vins.
You can also come to the Fête des Vins which is held in the magnificent Parc de Foucaud in Gaillac, this year on August 9 and 10.
The Maison des Vins, housed in the ancient St Michael’s Abbey, is the Gaillac appellation’s shop window.
It offers more than 100 wines for tasting, themed tastings each month and advice on visits to vineyards.
Also arranged throughout the summer are accompanied walks to selected vignobles.
The walks start either early in the morning or later on in the evening in order to avoid the summer heat.
They include a ramble of around 5 miles followed by a tasting or, in the case of the dawn walk on July 6, breakfast.
But the daddy of all the walks is the Ronde du Gaillac Primeur that takes place this year on Sunday November 23.
This is the most splendid celebration of the Gaillac AOC .
It involves either a 10 or 15 mile walk (whichever you choose) stopping at three or four vineyards to taste the new red wine.
This year the departure point is Cahuzac-sur-Vère, the village on the edge of the Cordais Plateau.
Around 1000 people turn up for this most vinous of rambles clutching the all-important wine tasting cup and an apple for the journey, apples being another one of Gaillac’s star turns.
But don’t take my word for it.
As I said earlier, I am no wine buff. Come, taste and see for yourselves.
Department of Tarn
Coordinates Gaillac: Lat 43.901816 - Long 1.896506