Wine Tasting in the Madirans and Beyond
After several days trekking in the Pyrénées I drove down through ancient stone villages dotting the foothills and onto the great rolling plains of the River Garrone and the Lot Valley to experience the special terroirs and diverse wines of the Midi-Pyrénées. It was spring and pink flowering fruit trees dotted the landscape. The grains in the fields were only about a foot high. The air was sweet with pollen and it was a perfectly sunny day. I picked up a little road that traced the River Adour and followed it for about sixty kilometers west of Toulouse and into the Coteaux du Madiran, the home of what is certainly my favorite French wine: the Madiran.
In all there are fifteen Appellations d’Origine Protégée in the Midi-Pyrénées, which speaks to the incredible diversity of soils, climate, grapes and winemaking skills found in the area. That diversity of growing conditions extends throughout France, and the thing about travelling through the French vineyards is that every region offers an experience as unique as the wines those regions produce.
Take the Bordeaux Aquitaine. There are approximately 800 growers who create some of the most prestigious wines in the world. But Aquitaine vineyards also specialize in major international art exhibits, whimsical architecture and visitor experiences that extend from “be a winemaker” workshops to wine route tours on donkeys to grape harvesting vacations and even a marathon. In 2016 the Centre for Wine and Civilization will open its doors in Bordeaux. Described as the mid-point between museum and theme-park, the Centre for Wine and Civilization will be the first facility of its kind dedicated to the wine growing civilizations the world over.
Just to the north of Bordeaux Aquitaine lies the Cognac. This is a massive region with bragging rights to the distinct, grape-derived liquor developed over centuries of artistic perfection. It is said that, world-wide, five bottles of cognac are consumed every second!
Another favorite of mine is the royal Loire Valley - one of the centers of France’s cultural history. I’ve enjoyed the Loire by boat along the broad river but I found it best when I packed cheese and bread in my bag and headed out on a bicycle tour. Stuffed not only with vineyards but also an abundance of castles, cathedrals and abbeys, the region is well deserving of UNESCO World Heritage status. Keep going. One of the highlights of the Loire is the “Vineyard Trail”, an 800 kilometer initiation to grape production and gastronomy cushioned in this landscape of rolling hills and cliff-side villages.
In 2009 the Ministries of Tourism and Agriculture created the Vineyards and Discoveries label to highlight destinations that provide a wider range of services to the visitor. From educational walks to hot-air balloon trips and boutique hotels to workshops specializing in the art of winemaking, be sure to look for that label when planning your journey through the French wine regions.
Back in the Midi-Pyrénées I made for the Couvent de Maumusson. A friendly young man stood near the cave. He set out the wines, cleaned several glasses and began to pour. The Madirans are wild tasting and I love them. “You want to drink this with a grilled lamb, goose or a duck,” the man nodded, and then kissed his fingers. The strong spice and leather of the knife-edged Madirans was there, but I could also taste currant and cherry flavors.
He poured the wine until I was sure what I wanted. Then we walked through the vineyards, the grape processing areas and finally the cave - where we enjoyed just a few more sips.