Tom Cannavan tastes the Marcillac

Tom Cannavan

We had the pleasure to meet Tom in Marcillac, where he visited the vineyard together with the Wine Gang ->

The Wines of Marcillac
by Tom Cannavan, 04/2014

The Southwest of France is a region rich in wine diversity, and many readers of wine-pages will have discovered the strapping reds of

Cahors or Madiran, the delicate whites of Jurançon or the fabulous sweet wines of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. But in fact there are a dozen or more smaller appellations in the Southwest that lie beyond these big(ish) names, and which, for many people, are joys waiting to be discovered.

map In the northeast of the region, Marcillac is a small, hilly area that feels remote when you make the two-hour drive from Toulouse - though in summer direct flights from the UK land at the tiny local airport at Rodez. This is red wine country where the Mansois grape variety is king, with 90% of plantings. Mansois is also known as Fer Servadou, and crops up occasionally in other regions of the Southwest.

This is a relatively cool area, the vineyards on steep, usually terraced sites covering the southern slopes of craggy hills and mountains that form a natural amphitheatre. Plantings are at between 350 and 500 metres, and the most interesting soils are a deep, rich red known locally as les rougiers, which is iron-rich clay on a limestone base. The climate is determined by many factors including some Mediterranean and Atlantic influence, the mountains, and the winds that funnel constantly through the area.

vineyards Winemaking declined steeply through the 19th and early 20th centuries. A series of natural disasters - powdery mildew, Phyloxerra, a devastating frost in 1956 - dramatically reduced the vineyard area. But in the latter half of the 20th century the vineyards were gradually rebuilt, with the award of the VDQS classification in 1965 and, finally, full appellation contrôlée status in 1990. Today, the excellent local co-operative accounts for 55% of total production with a dozen estates providing the rest.

the wines

I visited Marcillac in spring 2014 along with my colleagues in The Wine Gang. It was a brief one-day visit where the cooperative cellars hosted several of the local estates, each of which showed two or three wines. We had time for a brief and exhilarating tour of the region, visiting the vineyards of Domaine du Cros. As an overall summary, I really enjoyed these wines. There was a lovely fruit quality and edge of freshness running through them, a bit of steel as well as ripe sweetness thanks to the Mansois grapes and the cooler growing conditions. It takes a little work to find the wines of Marcillac on UK shelves, but the effort will be rewarded.

Les Vignerons du Vallon, Marcillac Cuvée Tradition Rosé 2013, France
This 12.5% alcohol rosé is 100% Mansois, but the formula of how long to macerate changes each year. Very nice strawberry brightness to the fruit, a little cherry lift too, bright and attractive. Creamy strawberry sundae ripeness and a really nicely balanced palate. 86-87/100.

Les Vignerons du Vallon, Marcillac Cuvée Tradition Rouge 2012, France
100% Mansois and 12.5% alcohol this is with Essentially Wine in the UK. A lighter colour here, a not quite so dark crimson. Has that herbal and cherry-touched character, nice dry fruit and that touch of iron-oxide dryness, but finishes quite softly with a certain chocolaty note, and no over-extraction. Lots of character, but easier to approach than some. 87/100.

Les Vignerons du Vallon, Marcillac Cuvée Réservée 2011, France
100% Mansois and 12.5% alcohol this is with Market Coffee House in the UK. A small proportion of barrel ageing for this blend, and again has a nice lighter colour. Perhaps a slightly more open, fleshy, earthy character to this. The palate is dry and tight, that juicy cherry freshness is there, but it is grippy too and I like the softening, warming fudge and earthy edges to this. Very drinkable. 87-88/100.

Les Vignerons du Vallon, Marcillac Les Crestes 2012, France
100% Mansois and 12.5% alcohol this is with Essentially Wine in the UK. Grown in clay at the bottom of the slope. Co-op director Kasper Ibfelt says is the real expression of Mansois. "People either love it or hate it." Again the colour is not too dense, and this is very tight, very green-flecked, bloody and dry, a touch of iron oxide, but it is about red fruits, hinting at cherry and some floral lift. The palate is cool, creamy and red fruited, with the asparagus-like herbaceous quality and the higher acidity giving this a real grippy edge, rather than outright tannin. Lovely, distinctive stuff. 89-90/100.

Les Vignerons du Vallon, Marcillac Domaine de Ladrecht 2011, France
100% Mansois and 12.5% alcohol this is with Essentially Wine in the UK. Lovely smooth pepper and spice nose over grilled red fruits. It has a touch of Mansois sappiness, but the extra touch of rounding richness, but the mid-palate has a fuller, more complete character with spice and plenty of flesh. 90/100.

Les Vignerons du Vallon, Marcillac Les Cayla 2012, France
100% Mansois and 12.5%, this comes from the top of the slope on limestone. Lovely nose, stony and earthy and that herbal note of the Mansois comes through, but there's an extra supple richness to this perhaps, a smoothing quality that is a little deeper and silkier. The palate has more structure arguably - trading a little of the charm - but such a lovely grippy wine with tight structure and spicy, mineral, peppery length. 90/100.

Les Vignerons du Vallon, Marcillac Exception 2010, France
100% Mansois and 12.5%, this is aged in 500l and 225l barriques, one third new each year. It comes from the most concentrated juice. There is a pencil shaving and cedar touch to the oak. That adds some vanilla and cream to the aroma too, with red berry and cherry giving this quite a Burgundian feel. The palate has lovely spice and pepper, a real tight character to the acid and tannin, a bigger wine, robust, but still only 12.5%. Lovely structure and works very well. 89-90/100.

Les Vignerons du Vallon, Marcillac La Grande Année 2011, France
100% Mansois and 12.5%, made "because the vintage was so special," it is the only release of this cuvée so far. It macerated longer and was again taken from the most concentrated juice. Only 3,000 bottles. Very nice expression of Mansois, with all the herby charm, such nice dry red fruit hinting at cranberry and cherry, and delicious, long tannins, giving this spice and creaminess and intense concentration. That natural intensity and grip is fantastic, with a touch of liquorice and plum skin grippiness. 92/100.