Tony’s Diary: Why Gaillac Perlé is my tip of the week

A brilliant wine that I reckon could be this year’s big new white success. Perlé (pron: pearl-ay) has been a big success for us before … and for others.

Almost exactly five centuries ago when Henry VIII met the King of France on The Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 he was presented with a great gift of French wine; 50 barrels worth no less, not of Bordeaux or Burgundy but of Gaillac, from the hills of the Cevennes.

Many wine drinkers today have never heard of Gaillac because it’s a bit remote up in central France, but before its vineyards were devastated by phylloxera it had a terrific reputation – five centuries worth at least. In fact longer; since Roman Times Gaillac had been considered one of the two finest wine regions in France (the other was around the northern Rhône and Ardeche). 

Bordeaux and Burgundy back then, didn’t seem to figure. But later, when jealous Bordeaux cut off Gaillac’s river access to the Atlantic trade routes (the greedy burghers created what they called ‘Le Privilege de Bordeaux’ and blockaded the Dordogne), the region’s wines seem to drop out of sight.

The French town of Gaillac is situated between Toulouse, Albi and Montauban
Tony often drove to Gaillac and loved their Perlé wines

But I drove through there regularly in the 70s and 80s … it lay on my well-worn route between Bordeaux and the vineyards of the Mediterranean.  I loved their refreshing, spritzy stuff in its distinctive bottle, and bought lots and lots of Gaillac Perlé.

Decanter’s Andrew Jefford obviously remembers it too, from his time as a student when he ran one of our shops. “I’m a fan of the teasing, tickling Perlé,” he wrote recently.

However, he won’t have yet tried our 2018 wine, made in a brand-new, state-of-the-art cellar by a great young winemaking friend of ours; Nicole McPheeters.

This young winemaker from Arizona, learnt her skills at Roseworthy College in Australia (top of the class swot!) then worked at our RedHeads cellar in Barossa before moving onto Le Chai au Quai in Bordeaux and then up the Dordogne and tributary Tarn into the wilds of the Cevennes.

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What appealed to her up there was that the group of growers who offered her the job had, for decades, eschewed the usual Chardonnays and Sauvignons that everyone else seems to go in for, and instead worked at bringing back and improving the many local grape varieties in which the region abounds. That’s autochthonous grapes, would you believe! Doubt even Stephen Fry knows that one. Many had been on the brink of extinction.

She won’t tell exactly the blend in Tres Cantou Perlé but we know it is mostly a grape called ‘Loin de L’Oeil’, or ‘Len de L’El’ in old Occitan (southern) French. It translates as ‘Far from the Eye’ and I always thought that was just a charming way of saying the grapes were small, but Mr Jefford corrects me. The variety got its name, apparently, from the way the grape bunches form an unusually long way up from the bud. Or the ‘El’. He’s bound to be right; studies a lot, does Andrew.

Nicole in her shiny new cellar has been able to correct the little problem the Perlé we sold in the 70s occasionally had. Perlé is the official French term for the least fizzy of fizzies. It’s the category that comes after 1: Mousseux, 2: Cremant then 3: Petillant. But the level of its slight fizziness was always uneven. Indeed, occasionally bottles had no bubbles at all and customers would, very justifiably, complain. This vintage though, that risk has gone.

“As an American,” Nicole explained to me, “I found creating this wine, which has such a long history, an incredible opportunity.

Nicole McPheeters has travelled the world making wine
Winemaker Nicole McPheeters is behind this refreshing Tres Cantou Perlé

“However, because there are no strict regulations on what constitutes a Perlé, Gaillac winemakers have been able to adapt it to the modern world, which allowed me to utilise both new and old techniques to produce this wine.”

We can now ensure each bottle has just the desired number of bubbles (or ‘perles’), and can be certain of a decent little sparkle in every bottle. Not, a foaming-out-of-the-glass type fizz, but a delightfully refreshing spritzy  prickle on the tongue’ … or what Andrew calls  a ‘teasing tickle’!

Tres Cantou is a district on the slopes to the north of the river Tarn, considered the best part of the Appellation. It is Occitan for ‘three songs’. A couple of us commented as we tasted, that this is a wine that slips down incredibly easily, so is probably a wine that might very well lead to a certain amount of singing!

Try Tres Cantou Gaillac Perlé for yourself

This wine is mouthwateringly crisp, bursting with refreshing citrus, and lifted by a delicate, natural spritz.

Order a bottle online or pop into one of our stores. £9.99 a bottle or £7.99 when you mix 12 or more.

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About Tony Laithwaite

Tony Laithwaite, founder of Laithwaite's, whose passion for wine is still going strong!

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