Marcillac – rustic southwest magic

Away from the powerhouse of Bordeaux, the southwest of France is a treasure trove of local varieties, obscure appellations and local traditions.  Marcillac is a case in point.  I am happy to admit that I had to ask Germain de Marquis of the Clos du Marquis, which specialises in the food of the southwest, where it is. And the answer is north west of Gaillac, roughly twice as far from the Atlantic as from the Mediterranean. As such it defeats the map-makers of The World Atlas of Wine: the map of the southwest extends from Biarritz to Cahors but Marcillac is sacrificed and only appears on the map of the whole of France.  So on the map it is in south central France, below the Massif Central; culturally it is in the southwest.

IMG_7198Nor had I ever knowingly tasted the grape variety, Fer Servadou or Mansois, before, which goes into Domaine du Cros, Marcillac, Cuvée Vielles Vignes 2006, 12.5%, about £12 retail.  The restaurant was promoting Fleurie but I don’t really like the taste of Gamay (even though it can produce complex wines) and any way I was going to eat cassoulet (the dish, not the the owner’s dog of the same name) and so the wine had to be from the southwest.  This is the top wine of the estate and spends 18 months in old oak barrels.  Domaine du Cros has grown in recent decades, buying up plots of old vines on the best sites of this relatively high altitude (up to 600m) and remote area.

The wine itself is ruby in colour with the first signs of browning at the rim.  The nose is fresh, clean and complex, ‘perfumed redcurrant fruit’ says Clarke/Rand, but this example clearly shows the effect of that old wood:  brambly fruit, blackcurrants and blackberries, savoury and balsamic notes from the wood.  On the palate the oak ageing is less IMG_7200-1obvious but the slightly wild fruit is very attractive. The normally sober Jamie Goode wrote expansively: ‘bloody, ferrous, meaty and fresh, with minerality and bright fruit’. The only question mark for me is the slight sourness on the palate.  On the one hand, the relatively modest alcohol level and the fresh acidity are pluses; on the other, the sourness is a bit prominent – fine with gutsy food of which there is no shortage is this important gastronomic area.

It’s a pleasure not only to discover where Marcillac is and what it stands for – and to try this slightly wild but attractive wine. Vive la Différence!

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