Few parts of wine-growing France can match the intrigue and diversity of the Pyrenean foothills. It’s a region which combines relatively low latitudes (warmth and generous light), rumpled relief and altitude (for freshness and cool nights) and generous rainfall (drought spells are rare here). This diversity of landscape is reflected by the fact that many growers here produce vines alongside a range of other crops, and raise livestock, too. Their vineyards are carefully sited, and sometimes of great antiquity – but not all have time to make and market their own wines. Plaimont is the hugely successful regional partner for growers across the region, helping shape and craft the Gascon wine patrimony in a wide variety of classic, contemporary and innovative styles.
Among Pyrenean specialities, the white Gros and Petit Manseng stand out: the former brings vitality but at the same time breadth of flavour to vivacious dry white blends; the latter, meanwhile, makes late-harvest whites of extraordinary inner drama and potential longevity. Look out, too, for Petit Courbu, a rare variety producing structured yet floral dry whites; and the pungent, late-ripening Arrufiac, brought back from near-extinction by Plaimont, which helps bring flesh and further perfume to blends.
Tannat is the celebrated red variety of the Pyrenean foothills: as its name suggests, it can produce prodigiously dark, tannic wines which require long ageing – but it can also produce much more accessible reds full of country charm and character, and ambitious contemporary fine wines, too, in which perfume and flesh are to the fore. A recent Plaimont rescue is the variety now acclaimed as Manseng Noir, but which for many years was thought to be a late-ripening cousin of Tannat.
Plaimont members cultivate 80 ha of this variety — all of them bred from a single mother-vine. It looks well-suited to the challenges of global warming, reaching only 12% or so after a full-growing season and when harvested in October. The wines crafted from these varieties and others, either on their own or in blends, offer a uniquely complex range of aromas and flavours. These Gascon specialities, too, have an intrinsic freshness and vivacity which sings in the glass, and which performs equally well in an aperitif and a mealtime role. With 1,200 ha in Saint Mont (98 per cent of the appellation), 700 ha in Madiran (50% the appellation) and a further 3,300 ha for Côtes de Gascogne and its associated IGPs, Plaimont incarnates Gascony and the Pyrenean foothills.
Le Faite Blanc, AOC Saint Mont 2019 94
Stockist: Corney & Barrow
The blend of Le Faite varies a little each year, and 2019 brings together Gros Manseng (half of it barrel-fermented) with Petit Courbu (20 per cent barrel fermented) and Arrufiac. Pristine cleanliness and precision characterize the aromas (time in the glass reveals a little stealthy pineapple and lemon), while the palate is explosive and long, electrically balanced: high voltage fruit, saline and dripping with plant sap. Fine wine, uniquely packaged and crying out for a little age. 94 points Drink 2021-2030 Alc 14%
Le Manseng Noir, IGP Côtes de Gascogne, 2019 90
Stockist: Wine Society, Les Caves de Pyrene
Dark, vivacious and forest-scented, this vital and mouthwatering red wine, with its raspberry and damson fruit, makes a great case for Plaimont’s rare variety programme. On the palate, there’s more than just fruit: look out for refreshing bitter tones and something which recalls iron and salt, the legacy of a full season’s hang time. The light charge of alcohol gives the wine delicious quaffability; serve chilled in warm weather. Drink 2021-2022 Alc 11.8%
Crouzeilles-Côte Abeilles, AOC Madiran, 2018 93
This outstanding cuvée comes from the pure-limestone slope of Côte Abeilles, a rarity amid the gravels and clays of Madiran. Dark black-purple in colour, with pollen-sweet plum on the nose and a rich, deep, broad palate characterized by firm and affirming tannins and refreshing acidity, this deeply satisfying Madiran can be enjoyed now (decant if you can) or aged for a decade or more. Purity and drama. Drink 2021-2030 Alc 14%
La Madeleine de Saint Mont, AOC Saint Mont, 2018 94
Stockist: Gusto Wines
One of the greatest reds ever made in Saint Mont, the 2018 La Madeleine comes from a small, field-blend parcel of Tannat with a few vines of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinenc planted in the 1880s, shortly after phylloxera. Opaque black red, with scents of warm earth and moist prune, this is dense and characterful yet almost voluptuous too, packed with plum and sloe fruits plumply textured by rich, succulent tannins. Drink 2021-2035 Alc 14.5%