Lesser-known wines from south-west France: Richard Esling, May 25

Chateau Issaly's GaillacChateau Issaly's Gaillac
Chateau Issaly's Gaillac
Located north-east of Toulouse in south-west France, the region of Gaillac has been producing wine since pre-Roman times.

Many regions of south-west France, including Cahors and Gaillac, benefit from a combination of climatic influences which make ideal conditions for growing wine grapes.

The hot, sunny, dry Mediterranean climate is tempered by the cooler, more humid influences of the Atlantic. Indigenous grape varieties excel in these conditions, such as braucol and duras for the reds and rosés, with mauzac and the strangely named loin de l’oeuil used for the whites.

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Gaillac is situated in what is designated as the Haut Pays region of South-west France and is some distance from the sea.

The influence of the Atlantic Ocean is surprisingly strong even this deep inland and it merges with continental and alpine elements across such a large area to provide moist spring weather and wet winters counterbalanced by hot summers and long, sunny autumns just as the grapes are ripening.

The devastation of phylloxera around the end of the 19th century was particularly bad in these areas and it was not really until the 1970s, and even later in some cases, that a turnaround in fortunes occurred, with some great quality, characterful wines now being produced.

Château Issaly is produced by the Labastide de Levis Winery in the Gaillac Appellation and comes as a white, red and rosé. Using mainly local grape varieties, the white is from loin de l’oeuil and mauzac, with the red using braucol, duras and syrah.

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The white has particularly appealing aromas of pear and quince, with good body, depth and balance. Tremendous with fried or grilled fish.

In the UK, Gaillac is readily available, more often than not being a red wine, with white and rosé being more difficult to track down other than a trip to the region (a great excuse!).

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Gaillac Rouge is currently from the 2019 vintage, on offer at £6.50 per bottle, representing great value. Smooth, rich, fruity red, with a touch of spice, perfect for barbecued sausages.

The Wine Society has a range of Gaillac wines, with a dry white, red and sweet white produced by Domaine Rotier. Thirty-five hectares of vineyards are planted on a gravel plateau at 200 metres above sea level, with local varieties such as braucol, duras, syrah, loin de l’oeil and sauvignon blanc.

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In 2009 the owners decided to plant the little-known local variety prunelart which had almost died out and was in dire need of reviving. A family which is proud of its heritage.

The relatively little-known wines of Gaillac are certainly worth looking out for on your next wine-buying outing, whether it be to your local store or across the channel.

Great value for money for the quality inside the bottle, the wines have great character, with a charming edge of rusticity.

Richard Esling is a wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. He runs agency and consultancy WineWyse, is founder and principal of Sussex Wine Academy and is chairman of Arundel Wine Society

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