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France Jeunes Sommeliers

Jérôme Georges

By Jérôme Georges, winner of the Bailliage of France 2013 National Final of the Jeunes Sommeliers Competition

In order to prepare for the International Jeunes Sommeliers Competition, Antoine Ferrer, Bailli Délégué of France, recommended that I spend a week in the Grand Sud-Ouest. My main priority was to learn about the particular characteristics of varietal wines, as blind-tasting such wines is a major test in the competition.

Robert Desbureaux, Échanson of France, gave me a warm welcome and helped me throughout my stay, introducing me to the region’s wines. Émilie Gentils, Chargée de Presse of the Bailliage of France, whose photos accompany this article, spent a few days with us too.

A lot of wines were tasted during this formative journey, and I would like to share with you my thoughts about the wines that for me represent the grape varieties in their most authentic expression.

Our journey began with Professionnel du Vin Marc Penavayre, a member of the Chaîne based in Toulouse, at his Domaine du Château Plaisance in Vacquiers (Haute-Garonne, France). The Fronton appellation, the area where he has planted his vines, is between Tarn and the Dordogne. He grows Négrette, known as “Pinot Saint Georges” in the United States. This grape is dominant here, although often combined with Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our adventure continued with a visit to the Gaillac appellation, where first I met Cédric Carcenac, from the Carcenac family estate. Prunelard, championed by Cédric, is originally from the appellation, but does not have a very high profile yet. Shiraz and Braucol are very popular varieties. However, this wine variety, that sees itself as the ancestor of Malbec, has all the features to make black grape varieties “blush”.

Robert Desbureaux asked Michel Issaly from the Domaine de la Ramaye to guide me through the discovery of the Mauzac grape variety, a white grape originally from Gaillac. Mauzac is slightly temperamental and, depending on where it is in the ageing process, it produces vastly different wines.

Time for a quick detour to Villeneuve sur Verre and the Cazottes distillery, where Sandra introduced us to the expertise of Laurent Cazottes, through a range of different eaux-de-vie and liqueurs.

Then we headed to Cahors to drop in on Bertrand Vigouroux, the owner of the Château Haute-Serre and Château de Mercuès family estates.

He began by introducing us to his range at L’Atrium, a wine shop south of Cahors, to familiarise us with Malbec, also called the Côt Noir. This variety has a strong presence in New World vineyards, particularly in Argentina, where it was planted in around 1860 by Dr Pouget, an agricultural engineer.

Bertrand Vigouroux invited us to the restaurant at the Château for a fantastically subtle and audacious but perfectly matched mix of food and wine.

Jérémy Arnaud, Marketing Manager for La Villa Malbec Cahors took over to tell us about this particular appellation. He had prepared a wonderful tasting session for us with more than 10 different Cahors wines. This gave me the chance to get to know this appellation and this variety, helping me to remember what makes Malbec really stand out.

The next day, after a short journey, we stopped off in Lannepax at the Delord distillery – a legend in the Armagnac world. Jérôme and Joëlle Delord showed us round the distillery and had prepared a tasting session encompassing their whole Armagnac range, which really enlightened me about the particular features of this eau-de-vie.

Our journey that day through the Grand Sud-Ouest took us south of the Armagnac appellation area, to Saint-Mont. The grapes here include the white varieties Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Courbu and Aruffiac, and the red varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinenc and Tannat. These beautiful combinations give wines a whole range of different characteristics.

Another point worth making is that Sarragachies is home to the oldest pre-phylloxera vines in France, some of whose roots date back more than 160 years, and the only vines to have recently been recognised as World Heritage by UNESCO. This wonderful heritage is nurtured by Olivier Bourdet-Pees and Yannick from the Plaimont cooperative cellar.

To broaden our horizons in terms of single variety wines, our journey took us to Languedoc, the neighbouring winegrowing region. We were welcomed by Tim Ford, the manager of the Domaine Gayda, which enjoys a stunning panorama from the very heart of the vineyard, looking out to the Pyrenees; a location particularly well suited to the joys of wine tasting. Vincent, the Maître de Chais, does a fantastic job producing some really unusual wines, particularly thanks to the “ŒUF”, a stainless steel vat in the shape of an egg, guaranteeing perpetual motion for the grapes and the must. With his Pays d’Oc range, he strives to express the individuality of each and every grape variety.

My initiation continued in the Sieur d’Arques cellar, in the Limoux appellation, where Aurélie introduced us to the delights of one of France’s favourite sparkling wines.

I returned from this adventure with renewed enthusiasm for the International Jeunes Sommeliers Competition. I would like to thank Robert Desbureaux, Échanson of France, from the bottom of my heart for the time he spent with me, the fantastic new contacts he introduced to me, for his patience and his advice, all of which will stand me in good stead for the competition.

Jérôme Georges
                                                             Photos (c) Emilie Gentils - The Food Eye