My alarm buzzed far too energetically at the ungodly hour of 5am reminding me that I had to catch a plane from Gatwick at 6.30 to fly to Toulouse, for a wine trip to another great wine region of France.
There would be just three of us on this short visit to South West France: fellow wine blogger Matt Walls and Chris Skyrme who was our guide and whipper-in. Organised by South West France Wines with the cooperation of the three regions we would be visiting, Côtes de Gascogne, Saint Mont and Madiran, it was a trip I was looking forward to.
This would be the first time I would be in the heart of this special area of France – the nearest I’d been was in the Dordogne, to the north. However I had discovered the wines a long time ago and listed many at my wine bar since the 1980s.
My expectations were more than exceeded.
We were met at the airport by our charming chauffeur who would look after us for the next three days, offering snippets of information as we drove along and when we arrived at the various wineries. South West France is a catch all name for a very large area encompassing 16 AOCs, shown on map above, and 12 IGPs, on map below. Between Aveyron and the Basque Country, bordered in the south by the Pyrenees and north by the Massif Central, the vineyards of South-West France cover 500 km² in 12 departments. This vast region has very few fast roads so travel can be sluggish, hence the reason for limiting our visit to three regions, Côtes de Gascogne, Saint Mont and Madiran, all in the heart of Armagnac country.
Thirty years ago the demand for Armagnac started to fall quite dramatically so there was a swing to farmers growing grapes to make wine.
But not just any old wine. It took a few brave enlightened people to oversee this dramatic change, and I was looking forward to meeting a couple of these wine heros later on this trip.
After 90 minutes drive we arrived at Domaine Laguille just outside Eauze where we were met by Amandine Lalanne, Communications Manager of the Syndicat des Vins Côtes de Gascogne..
We were introduced to Guy and Colette Vignoli, a charming friendly couple, who told us their story, which was similar to most of the vignerons we met in South West France.
The estate only produced Armagnac until the 1970s when they replanted some of their vineyards starting to also make wine in 1980. They have 64 hectares of vines, 60 of which are mainly planted with local white varieties Colombard and Ugni Blanc (used for Armagnac as well), Petit and Gros Manseng and a little Sauvignon Blanc. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grow on the remaining 4 hectares.
We tasted a selection of wines – here are the ones I particularly enjoyed.
Ugni Blanc – Colombard, Domaine Laguille, Côtes de Gascogne 2012 Pale gold. Gooseberry, yellow flowers, dry bright and superbly fruity.
Two local specialities: Foie Gras with Petit Manseng. A geat match!
Bright gold. Rhubarb, yellow fruits, sweet, good acidity, gorgeous, spicy long, delicious.
Dessert was another treat, another regional speciality: Croustade gasconne aux pommes. Made with finely sliced apples and enveloped in the thinnest of pastry and, of course, the recipe includes Armagnac.
Talking of Armagnac, the tasting room was dominated by a gleaming, copper still, still used regularly.
Our visit was completed by a taste of a few of their vintage Armagnacs. It would have been so pleasant to linger longer with this keen, proud couple but we had more to discover on the other side of Eauze.