The vineyards clinging to the sunny hillsides of Gascony were created by the Romans, in the 3rd century AD. Since then, their cultivation has never ceased in the western part of the department.
Armagnac, Floc and numerous appellations such as Madiran, St Mont and the Côtes de Gascogne show the wealth and diversity of the vineyards of Gascony. The region is best known for its brandy – Armagnac was first ‘invented’ at the beginning of the 14th century in the Pays d’Armagnac in Gascony – but also for its white wine – With a permitted production quantity of 830,000 hectoliters per year, the Gers is France’s largest producer of white Vin de Pays, with a production potential of more than 100 millions bottles per year, 91% white wine, 8% is red and 1% rosé wine.
Armagnac – the spirit of Gascony! Armagnac has an aura of mystery about it. Armagnac is much older than its rival Cognac. The vineyards which produce the wine for Armagnac occupy a vine leaf-shaped area in the centre of Gascony. The vineyards of Armagnac unites four grape varieties: Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Folle Blanche and the hybrid Baco.
Armagnac, the brandy of princes, this is produced within three regions, Higher, Lower and Tenareze. The distinction between Bas and Haut describes the geography of the region rather than the quality of the Armagnac. Experts obviously taste the difference between Armagnacs from these different areas. But amateurs can also taste the difference, especially when comparing a 6 year old against a 40-year-old Armagnac.
Armagnacs are classified according to their age. The young clear Armagnac eau de vie is often drunk between courses as ‘Trou Gascon’. Older Armagnacs are classified as follows:
Trois Etoiles – Armagnacs at least two years of age.
VO et VSOP – Armagnacs of five years or more.
XO – Armagnacs of six years or more.
Hors d’Age – blended eaux de vie with at least 10 years in the barrel.
Le Millesime – the vintages corresponding to the year on the label (10 years minimum)
Armagnac is produced by a single distillation of white wine in an Armagnac alambic (still) made from pure copper according to a patent that was registered in 1818. It is then left to age for many years in oak barrels called «pieces». Most of these 400 litre casks are made from wood from the forests of Gascony. Armagnac producers strictly follow the rules and regulations laid down by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée attributed to this eau-de-vie in 1936. Nor only is the quality and price of the brandy important, but also the way that it is produced and so is the reception at the winery.
2. FLOC DE GASCOGNE
Parfum de fleur et gout de bonheur! Floc, a subtle combination of grape juice and young Armagnac, usually drunk chilled as an aperitif, is prepared according to a Gascon recipe dating back to the sixteenth century, passed down by the ancestors of today’s wine growers through the centuries.
Floc de Gascogne is promoted by the only wholly female wine society in France, the Académie des Dames du Floc de Gascogne. The word floc means bouquet of flowers. In 1990 Floc de Gascogne became an ”Appellation d’Origine Controlée” (AOC).
Available in red or white, it is excellent as an accompaniment to melons, foie gras, dessert or fresh fruit. Today 1.3 million bottles are produced by 200 producers and exported mainly to Belgium and Canada.
Their official web site is Floc-de-Gascogne.fr. Also available in English.
3. THE MADIRAN VINEYARDS (A.O.C.)
These vineyards are mainly in the south west Gers but extend over three departments. Madiran was used for a long time as an altar wine – it gained its renown thanks to the pilgrims who sampled it on the route to Santiago de Compostelle. Receiving it’s AOC in 1948, these dark reds are very rich in tannin, full bodied and an ideal accompaniment to duck, game, red meats and cheese. Their uniqueness comes from the Tannat grape, which has to account for at least 40% of the blend. When young, Madiran gives aromas of red and black fruits (blackcurrants and raspberries), as it ages the tannins round out and develop a more spicy, coffee and vanilla aroma.
The white wines are called Pacherenc du Vic Bilh. The name is derived from the Gascon word Pacherenc, which means vine stakes and Vic Bilh is the name of a local village. Both dry and sweet whites are made – dry whites fall under the name of Pacherenc de Vic Bilh Sec. The Pacherenc is made from the grape varieties Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Arrufiac, Petit Corbu and Sauvignon Blanc. The sweet wines are made from late harvested grapes – from mid-October through to New Year’s Eve. An edict dating from 1745 dictated that the Pacherenc harvest must not commence before November 4th. The wine has a minimum alcohol level of 12%, and contain a minimum of 35 grams per litre of residual sugar and are powerful and rich, exuding complex perfumes of fruits and flowers.
4. CÔTES SAINT-MONT (AOC from the 2010 vintage)
Bordering Madiran in the south west of the department right in the heart of Gascony, Saint Mont is a very old vineyard which went into decline in the 19th and early part of the 20th century. It was revived in 1958 to produce good quality wines and received the VDQS status in 1981; thanks to the efforts of the local wine growers it is now producing wines whose quality is unquestionable. The vineyards have a surface of 785 hectares, where red, rosé and white wines are produced from the following grapes:
For red and rosé wine: Tannat, Fer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc.
For white wine: Arrufiac, Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Courbu, Clairette (till 2020). The Mansengs together are permitted to make up a maximum of 60% of white wine blends.
We have noticed that the density of vine plantings are much more relaxed here than in many other wine regions of France. Cotes de Saint Mont vineyards may have planting densities as low as 3600 plants per hectare, whereas vineyards in more prestigious appellations must reach densities between 6500 and 10000 plants per hectare before claiming the title AOC.
Their website, also in English is at www.plaimont.com
5. CÔTES DE GASCOGNE (Vin de Pays)
The 8th largest wine producing region in France and the largest white wine exporting area. Grape varieties grown include Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Cabernet Franc and for the red and rosé wines Tannat and Merlot. Over 90% of the wine produced is white and most is exported, the UK being a major consumer. There is an increasing number of very good value and widely acclaimed wines bearing the imprint of the local soil and the know-how of the Gascon vine growers. The 56 independent wine producers of the region welcome visitors for tastings and there are five recommended wine routes to explore.
Wines made under this name may be red, white or rose and are made from a wide repertoire of varieties including Tannat, Malbec, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon for the reds and roses and Mauzac, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and Ugni Blanc for the whites. In 2009 the Vin de Pays (VDP) title in force since the 1970s was supplemented with Indication Geographique Protegee (IGP) – its European Community equivalent.
The wines of the Côtes de Gascogne appellation are beginning to gain more than just a local reputation and offer excellent value for money.
Would you like to add an extra day to your retreat/workshop and go on a wine appreciation adventure?
The price of our Wine Tasting Tours includes the transport, entrance/tasting fees, educational material (tasting sheets etc.), lunch and dinner on the day of the tour, accommodation for the extra night and breakfast the next day (check out time 11h00). The cost amounts to £150 per person per day – some of our guests have asked for two or three extra days to give them the opportunity of exploring neighbouring wine regions. If you would like to know more, or book a wine tasting tour at the beginning or end of your holiday, write to us on email@example.com or fill in the form below: