The Galliac Region
Posted by fromagebob on May 16, 2009
I’m giving up on the day by day tracking, mostly because I keep forgetting what we did when (or when we did what…). Figure it’ll be easier on my brane if I random post – not much sense in order anyway! So: I don’t remember when I heard about the Galliac region of France; it was a few years ago. I hadn’t tried any of their wines until about three years ago, when we walked to a small wine shop/bistro near Paulo’s apartment. Its name is Au Noveau Nez
The proprietor is great. She speaks English, and is very knowledgeable about her wines; she specializes in what I like to call “off-track” wines from around France – like Galliac and Vaunage (a small wine region near Nages) . When we visited the first time, I think she had a bottle of Galliac open for us to try, and I liked it, so I bought a bottle or two to take home. It was quite nice. More rustic than the refined brands, and a little more tannic, but I liked it. I tried to find in Miami, but the response to the question “do you have any wines from Galliac?” was “from where?” So I had to wait until the next trip to buy. I still have one bottle in the cooler and added two more from this trip. I learned a lesson – ask about local holidays occurring around the time you are travelling to a remote area!
Anyway… our trip to Toulouse came from a suggestion from Uncle Paulo, who was originally planning to come with us, but weaseled out at some point. We decided to make the trek anyway. His recommendation was to stay in Toulouse, but when we visited the Loire a couple years ago, we had such a nice time at a bed-and-breakfast in a Chateau, we decided to take that route. By process of elimination, we ended up in the middle of the Galliac region, smack in the middle of the vineyards (see my posting on Servidou). When I realized where we were going to end up, I figured on tasting my butt off in the area, but didn’t figure on two factors: the Ascension and a touch of Napolean’s Revenge. Ended up not being able to taste much at all, other than the wines we had at dinner.
The vines were just sprouting their spring leaves. The vineyard next to the chateau looked kind of strange – the rootstock looked rather old, but there was only one level of trellis above the vine. I wasn’t sure if they had grafted new growth or if there was some strange Galliac custom, so I asked the proprietor of the Chateau. Turns out that the vineyard next door did machine harvesting, so they trained the grapes to grow on one level so that the machine could “pick” the grapes. Other vineyards had the traditional trellis or the free-growth standard that I was familiar with.
I decided to do a little checking; Patricia (the proprietor) told us that this was an ancient wine region, one of the first in France. According to Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion, the region does have historic importance, and dates back to ancient Gaul, when the Romans planted the Languedoc and Galliac regions (the weren’t called that back then, obviously). Apparently, there’s some legitimate historical debate as to which region is older, and Galliac has some strong evidence that it is the older of the two. They have established that wine production in the area was well established around 1 AD, but historically, it may be that wine production in the area pre-dates Roman conquest. According to Robinson, Galliac was probably producing wines before Bordeaux; war and other factors curbed production until the 10th century (not sure when it was curbed…). She says that the wines were highly prized locally and in Northern Europe, especially in England. The tax man got involved (Bordeaux) which killed off their export trade.
Trade picked up again until the Albigensian (Cathar) Crusades in the 12th century, but the wines were popular again in England in the 16th century. Apparently there were considered more “robust” than the wimpy Bordeaux plonk <g>. Galliac wines were primarily used for blending through the 19th century when phylloxera wiped out most of the vines. According to Patricia, quality and quirkiness also played a part in the 20th century to keep the wines down. They were considered inferior in quality, and they were bottled in non-standard bottles which caused problems with packing and shipping, so Paris wine merchants wouldn’t buy them. No second source on that, but it sounds reasonable!
Today, the region has undergone a transformation, in that the producers are paying more attention to quality (and using normal bottles). I’ve tried quite a few of their wines, and found almost all to be quite decent. They are more robust than their more refined cousins, and definitely more tannic, but the rustic quality and local flavor make them quite enjoyable.
The white wine grapes in the region (again quoting Robinson) include Mauzac, which gives wines with a strong apple peel aroma, Len De L’El, a grape that produces low acid wine and is often blended with locally grown Sauvignon, and Ondenc, used in sweet wines. Ondenc is also one of the permitted Bordeaux varietals, although it is not widely grown. They also grow Semillon and Muscadelle.
The region also makes a sparkling wine using the Mauzac, by methode gaillacoise.
One of the cooperatives in the area is Cave de Labastide, which was the label on one of the better wines we tried. Unfortunately the bottle got tossed out before I could copy down the actual name; we wanted to try to find that specific wine because it was so good. We tracked down the shop where the coop sold their wines on our way out of the region, but they were closed on Monday. Ah, fate! There are more than 100 vineyards in the area. Here’s some links to a few: