Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Wine from the Côtes de Gascogne and a New Discovery!

As I have been writing about the wines of South West France Nick has been busy hunting new wines from the area and I am delighted that he has now sourced one for the wine shop. Sancet comes from the Côtes de Gascogne appellation which is located in Gascony. The Armagnac area and the Côtes de Gascogne have the same borders and the region lies just south east of Bordeaux, between the Adour and Garonne rivers in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Wines from Gascony have been seeing a revival over the past 5 or 6 years, winning awards and stamping their mark on the map.

Centuries ago Gascony's prestige was well known and Château de Briat has a link to a Bordeaux via the Pichon-Longueville family who owned the famous vineyards of Chateaux Pichon Baron and Pichon Lalande in Pauillac. Built in 1540, the Château de Briat is a former hunting manor commissioned by Queen Jeanne d’Albret for her son Henri de Navarre, later Henri IV King of France. The Briat estate was purchased by Raoul de Pichon Longueville in 1864.

The Côtes de Gascogne is unusual in that it mainly produces white wine: only 8% is red and 1% is rosé. Gascony's fine wines and warm hospitality go back a long way. The Gallo-Roman mosaics at Séviac in Montréal du Gers bear witness to the fact that Gascony had vineyards as far back as the 5th century. In those days, the Adour and Baïse rivers were the most important routes for transporting wine to the Nordic countries. This region tucked between the foot of the Pyrenees and the gateway to the Atlantic has always been a lush land of hillsides and valleys almost entirely devoted to the art of wine growing.

With its oceanic climate tempered by the Landes forests to the west, the Pyrenees to the south and just the right mix of sunshine, rain and coolness the Gers provides ideal conditions to get the best from is vineyards. When fully mature the wines develop their own particular identity - a rich aromatic palette that is complex and seductive.

Domaines de Sancet is located in Saint-Martin-d'Armagnac in the Bas Armagnac area. This area is very well-known for its strong culinary tradition with duck and foie gras and the production of Armagnac (the oldest distilled spirit in France, dating back to the 12th century). Domaines de Sancet is owned by the mayor of the village, Alain Faget, who also makes Armagnac, Floc de Gascogne, liqueurs and wines under the Madirans and Pacherenc appellations.

Sancet is made from a blend of 45% Colombard, 30% Ugni Blanc, 15% Gros Manseng and 10% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Colombard is traditionally grown in Gascony for distilling into Cognac and Armagnac. It's thought to have originated in the Charentes region and is possibly the offspring of Gouais Blanc and Chenin Blanc. In France Colombard was traditionally grown in the Charentes and Gascony for distilling into Cognac and Armagnac and the white Floc de Gascogne.

Until Chardonnay became so fashionable it used to be California's most favoured white grape variety. Today it is still among the permitted white grape varieties in Bordeaux. The name seems to come from the French for dove “colombe” - perhaps because the ripe grapes were a favourite of the bird. Colombard makes a fruity wine with a powerful and unique aroma with hints of citrus fruit, mango, pineapple or passion fruit. It is an early fruiting variety which is used to provide backbone, due to its natural acidic character.

Ugni Blanc is also known as Trebbiano and although fruity its high acidity makes it important in Armagnac production. This is a very old grape and it's thought to have originated in Italy. Pliny describes a Vinum Trebulanum which some historians believe to be a wine from Trebula in central Italy and that the grape was named for the ancient region from which it sprang. Trebbiano made its way to France, possibly during the Papal retreat to Avignon in the 14th century. It is mentioned in 1730 in Cadillac and local names for it support this (Cadillac, Cadillate, Blanc De Cadillac, Boriano de Cadillac). I don't know how it became known as Ugni Blanc so if anyone does please let me know!

Ugni Blanc brings a floral bouquet (violets and geraniums), as well as the vivacity and balance that is crucial in any wine. The Colombard/Ugni Blanc blend is the flagship of Côtes de Gascogne white wines. Gros Manseng produces intensely flavoured wines with high acidity, apricot and quince fruit along with spicy and floral notes. This variety from the Béarn adds a special touch to the combination of Colombard and Ugni Blanc.

Sancet is a lovely representation of these grapes - it's beautifully balanced, bright, and refreshing with lush flavours of ripe pear, melon, guava, cucumber, apple and lemon. There is a light beeswax note which adds complexity, a hint of slight sweetness (this should not deter lovers of white wine) and a touch of minerality on the finish.

This wine is well structured wine and is food friendly. It pairs well with all fish dishes, seafood (particularly oysters and scallops), Mediterranean fayre such as Bouillabaisse or Paella, pork and poultry as well as game birds (Guinea Fowl), and strong cheeses. It adapts well to the spicy flavours of Asian cuisine and is good with Chinese sweet and sour dishes as well as foods from Thailand and the Philippines. If you are interested in sampling Sancet for yourself you can find it here.


lostpastremembered said...

I never knew that armagnac was the first brandy!! I have never been to Gascony and have always wanted to visit. Now I want to try the wine... sounds just delicious.
I also wanted to comment on what you said about cookbook lending on my blog. .. it happened to me too!! I learned the hard way. The only good thing these days is the can usually find them a price! I'd love to know the name?? :]

Sue said...

Stupidly I can't remember the author Deanna - I have tried googling it and there are suprisingly a lot of Marchionesses who wrote cookery books at that time! I will keep on hunting!