The Weird Wine World

Stand aside, Mister Merlot. Here come Lord Ondenc, Sir Len de l’El, The Earl of Prunelart, and the Count of Mauzac Roux. If you’re bored of wine that tastes more like processed blackberry tart, it’s time to discover the weird old wines of the dustier corners of France.

First up: Gaillac. If Willy Wonka was a wine-maker he’d move here. In Gaillac, just as in a handful of other lesser-known wine regions of France, the gloves are really off, the silly hats are on, and the wines are really weird. This is not news—they’ve made films about it, written books about it, and people better qualified than me can write reams on their relative merits. But what’s less known is that if Willy Wonka was a holiday-maker (which is more my line of work) he’d be planning trips to Gaillac. Or Cheverny, Pic St Loup, Macon or Marcillac. Weird wines come from interesting places.

In the quiet shadow of the brightest stars of the French wine world, lurk some fantastic areas—perfect for a weekend of tasting by TGV from Paris or London, a summertime of biking around and learning twangy accents from a rented country house, or a lifetime of struggle and bankruptcy if you go the whole hog and buy a ruined farm. Somewhere in the middle is a great formula for discovering a France that still has the scent of the 50s.

If you’re blessed like me with a mediocre palate, you can cheerfully forego the more ruinous Burgundys and monumental Bordeaux, and plan trips to places like those mentioned above. My personal favourite is the vineyard of Gaillac, sitting above the valley of the river Tarn, and from where the photos above come.

Along the river are the red-brick towns and cities of Rabastens, I’Ile-sur-Tarn and Gaillac. Up in the hills is a gorgeous area known as Le Tarn Toscane—Tuscan Tarn—named for its rolling hills, wheat fields and Tuscan pines. The spider’s web of roads connecting the hewn-limestone villages and towns make for, in my not very humble opinion, some of the best biking in France, and the villages are beautiful. Of particular note is Cordes-sur-Ciel, which sits on top of a cushion of mist in the valley most spring or fall mornings. The rolling countryside is half vine-covered, half agriculture, because many wine-makers are also farmers—which shows how rough and ready the wine must be. Not to mention cheap.

And everywhere you turn, someone is making a weird brew out of Pignol, Duras or Mauzac Vert. They even make a sherry-style wine here called Vin de Voile. It’s the never-ending-gobstopper of the wine world. What’s not to like.

Jack is bravely drinking his way through France for the benefit of readers like you. Congratulate him on a job well done, or check out our trip planning site if you’re ready to take on this difficult mission yourself.

Perfect for a weekend of tasting by TGV from Paris or London, a summertime of biking around and learning twangy accents from a rented country house, or a lifetime of struggle and bankruptcy if you go the whole hog and buy a ruined farm.

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