September 2014…From the banks of the Garonne to the Lot Valley, from the Coteaux du Madiran to the outskirts of Toulouse, Midi-Pyrénées has a great diversity of wine, all with different flavours due to the variety of climates, grapes, terroirs and wine-making skills.
A wide range of wine is produced in the region from dry to sweet, light to tannic, rosé, red and white as this is the fourth largest wine-producing region of France. This area is home to France’s oldest eau de vie – Armagnac, which is an AOC product with a very particular distillation process in leather stills then aged for years in oak barrels. There are 15 Appellations d’Origine Protégée (the European version of the French Appellations d’Origine Controlée). These include the famous black wine of Cahors, AOC as well, the colour arises due to the grape used – malbec. Also well-known are the wines of Gaillac where the vineyards are amongst the oldest in France and produce a great variety of wines – reds, whites, rosés, sparkling, sweet, dry and effervescent. Also produced here is the award winning and fruity Madiran wine in the Gers and Hautes Pyrénées.
Vignobles & Découvertes’
Vignobles & Découvertes is a label introduced in 2009 and awarded to a wine growing region that has a full and diverse tourism offering as well as excellent wines. This means of course there are wine tours, tastings, visits to growers, as well as an excellent standard of accommodation, restaurants and sites to see. There are only 36 wine areas in France that are recipients of the award – two of which are in the Midi-Pyrénées – Gaillac and Cahors. Armagnac is in the process of being awarded the label as well.
- Taking Cahors as an example, firstly this extraordinary wine is unique. Vineyards have existed here since Roman times, from around 50BC producing a wine that is particularly dark, deep red in colour and therefore known as vin noir. It has been accredited since 1971.
- Of particular interest to the wine lover is the Chateau de Haute-Serre, an historical wine estate which now has a well-regarded restaurant within its cellar where only the produce of the Lot is served in season. It is known as a bistronome.
- Look for the ‘Bacchus’ sign outside your Clévacances accommodation – which must be situated in a wine appellation area and close to vineyards, growers, wine villages and where wine tours can be enjoyed.
- Cahors was only awarded the label in 2013 for the longstanding efforts to promote the wines, supported by the tourism industry.
- There is so much to visit apart from the vineyards, just Cahors itself is a ‘Ville d’Art et Histoire’ and includes the Great Site of the Pont Valentré.
Chefs and Wine
The long list of fine local specialities in the Midi-Pyrénées – Armagnac, Roquefort, foie gras, cassoulet – ensures a global reputation for the area’s cuisine and for its chefs. Take, for example, Michel Bras whose cuisine is inspired by the countryside and the flavours of the Aubrac. His wine list at the three-star Michelin restaurant in Laguiole includes wines from Marcillac, Cahors, Fronton and Madiran. Michel Sarran, another Michelin starred chef of the Midi-Pyrénées, who serves regional produce and has chosen as his signature wine the ‘Mas Delpérié’ Cahors AOC uvee Les Escures by Fabien Jauves.
Men and Wine
Looking at the wine side, there are some important local vintners who have made significant contributions to wine making in the region. Alain Brumont for example, who is responsible for reviving the Madiran appellation and tannat grape variety, has restored many of the terroirs that had fallen into disrepair. He is passionate about his winemaking and has, over the past 25 years or so, been voted by many industry magazines as best winemaker. Today, Chateau Montus and Chateau Boucassé are considered amongst the world’s finest wines.
It took M. Georges Vigouroux five years to restore the vineyards of the Chateau de Haute – Serre that he acquired in 1970. He replanted the vines and was a pioneer of the grape variety – malbec. Thanks to him there has been a renaissance of the Cahors appellation. Today it is his son Bertrand-Gabriel that carries on the good work.
In the latest edition of the Robert Parker Wine Guide 2014, the wines of Château Lagrezette have won the most excellent reviews, better than some Bordeaux vintages thanks to Alain-Dominique Perrin and his team. The Romanée got 96% and the Pigeonnier 95% so a similar rating to Petrus! This success is because of the technological advancements and tweaks they have made to the wine growing, although much is still done by hand including tending the land. The harvest is also quite late, in September and early October. They hope this will lead to better worldwide sales although they already export to China, Latin America and North America.
Women and Wine
Winemaking is not of course just a man’s profession and the Midi-Pyrénées has a number of noted female winemakers such as at the ladies-only winery of Chateau Flotis. Myriam, Katia and Cathy got together in 2004 to run their Fronton winery which received organic certification in 2012. They regularly organise events to encourage better knowledge of the vine.
Another example is Evelyne Levy who gave up hairdressing to take over the family vineyards in 2002 and who has learnt her trade from scratch. She was inspired by her grandmother who taught her that the wine was part of her heritage.
There are several local celebrations of wine that take place throughout the year such as the Lot of Saveurs in Cahors. This festival started in 2009 to celebrate the wine and gastronomy of the area and was championed by Thierry Marx. The festival is an expression of the love of fine food and spending time at mealtimes with your friends and family. It is a three day celebration of eating, cooking and having fun held every July.
Another celebration not to be missed is ‘La Flamme de l’Armagnac’ which takes place between November and March each year to rejoice in the distillation of the alcohol and includes various activities and events at the producers’ estates – festive meals, walks, music…
Great Sites of the Midi-Pyrénées.
Each wine area also has tourist sites of great interest to see:
When visiting Marcillac, home to 190 hectares of red and rosé wines, the village of Conques is a “must see”. The Abbey here is a World Heritage site and, with the stained glass windows by Pierre Soulages, there is a fascinating link to the town of Rodez where, earlier this year, a museum dedicated to this, the ‘greatest living French artist’, was opened to great acclaim.
- The beautiful town of Albi is un-missable. Albi sits majestically on the river Tarn with the magnificent cathedral of Sainte-Cécile overlooking the town. A great attraction is the Toulouse–Lautrec Museum which has been recently renovated to house even more of the great artist’s work. It is the 150th anniversary this year of Toulouse–Lautrec, who was born in the city.
- If tasting the Cotes de Millau, don’t miss the amazing Millau Bridge by Norman Foster – even higher than the Eiffel Tower and one of the most aesthetically pleasing spans in the world. Nearby are the famous Tarn gorges that lead to the Larzac Plateau which was recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.
- Toulouse, Estaing, Marciac, Lourdes and more…there are so many great sites of the region that really should not be missed.
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Key Facts & Figures for Midi-Pyrénées:
- Population: nearly 2.9 million
- Surface area: 45,348 km² making it France’s largest region
- Capital: Toulouse – population 437,000
- 8 departments – Ariège, Aveyron, Gers, Haute-Garonne, Hautes-Pyrénées, Lot, Tarn and Tarn-et-Garonne.
- Third most important interior (non-coastal) tourist region in the French market (after Rhône-Alpes and Ile de France)
- France’s 6th most important tourist region in the international market with 4.3% of the market share
- 7 million visitors per annum with 85.9 million bednights booked
- 33,500 salaried jobs generated by tourism