Plaimont Vignerons – Icons of Gascogne.
Recently we got the opportunity to explore one of France’s bigger wine regions, the South-West or “Le Sud-Ouest” as the French call it. More specifically we explored Gascogne, by invitation of one of the biggest producers, the Plaimont cooperation.
Plaimont is a wine producer that has been of huge importance to the region and showcases the revival of a part of France that almost was forgotten in its wine history.
We experienced the uniqueness of Plaimont during a special event, the annual blending of their flagship wine “Le Faîte”. This event took place at the majestic 5-star Peninsula Hotel in Paris, and was complemented by a special “25-year-tasting” and a delicious lunch prepared by Chef David Bizet from the resident 2-star Restaurant L’Oiseau Blanc. More about this event and the blending later, but first let us dive a bit deeper into Gascogne.
Gascogne – Le Sud-Ouest
As mentioned Le Sud-Ouest with Gascogne form one of the largest wine regions of France, a region that has a lot of history as well as diversity. Neighboring Bordeaux this region is often undervalued, as it is believed by insiders the wines produced here on average have better value, offering the same taste and quality for a generally reduced price. One of the biggest wine producers with strong ties to the region is the Plaimont cooperation.
If you take a look at the map of France you will immediately notice the vicinity of Bordeaux, as you are looking for Gascogne and the department Gers, where the heart of Plaimont can be found. Gascogne is also referred to as “Côtes de Gascogne” and its wines can be labelled as IGP Côtes de Gascogne.
The region is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the West and the Pyrenees mountains in the South. In the east it stretches as far as Toulouse. The Atlantic moderates temperatures and proximity to the Pyrenees leads to a bigger change in temperature between day and night. Also, the region enjoys a long and steady growing season, ensuring healthier grapes and higher yields. All these elements together lead to more concentrated aromas and freshness in the grapes.
As this is quite a big region there is quite some variety in the soil types, allowing for production of excellent terroir wines such as Le Faîte, with a very own and distinct character. The region hosts some of the oldest vineyards in France, based on alluvial sand soils that in some cases even protected the vines for the Phylloxera disaster.
History and Present
Gascogne has a long and rich history in which it was at time way more popular than its Northern brother Bordeaux. Its wines found their way to the powerful and merchants in Bordeaux who, with the harbor in possession, had strong control over sales and export to England for instance (Gascogne has strong ties with England since it belonged to England around the 11th century). At some point the wines become so popular that production and sales in the Bordeaux region got favored to protect their own wines. One could say the success of Gascogne became its downfall at that point.
Producers in Gascogne moved their focus on producing more and cheaper (bulk) wine, which also was not a sustainable strategy. Also, the production of Armagnac started to peak, but here we have to credit the Phylloxera disaster as grape growers and winemakers took a heavy hit here.
Since the 1970’s a shift became eminent and as Armagnac started to go out of fashion some producers and cooperation’s saw the light at some point and went back to their roots. They wanted to focus on producing unique quality wines again. Plaimont became one of these success stories, reviving not only its regional grape varieties and vineyards but also itself. With a lot of attention for lesser known, regional, grape varieties such as Pinenc, Arrufiac and Petit Courbu.
Some of the other varieties that thrive in the region are: Tannat, Colombard, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Ugni Blanc (aka Trebbiano) Petit and Gros Manseng. A rich variety that enables the producers to come up with a wide array of wines and exceptional blends. Taking advantage of the best every vintage has to offer, producing wines ranging from simple to complex, with something to offer for evert wine lover.
Founded in 1979 Plaimont is now one of the big players in one of France’s biggest wine regions. This cooperation has no less than 1,000 vignerons as their members total for about an astonishing 5,250 hectares of vineyards. Ever since Plaimont started their focus has been on producing quality wines in different price range, with a unique and regional character. Plaimont is heavily invested in growth, with a quality and innovation budget that accounts for 5-10% of their yearly revenue.
The majority of Plaimont’s wines are produced under the IGP Côtes de Gascogne label but Plaimont has an even more specific stronghold in Gascogne, the AOC Saint Mont, home of “Le Faîte” and a couple more of their top wines. Two other notable AOC’s under which they produce wines are the AOC Madiran and AOC Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh.
Le Faîte Blanc et Rouge
As we already mentioned Le Faîte is Plaimont’s absolute flagship wine. You will recognize the wines straight away because of their waxed top and seal, but mostly because of the wooden “plaque” that they carry instead of a regular wine label. Beautiful to see and something that surely makes them stand out of the crowd.
The first vintage for Le Faîte Rouge was 1996 and for the Le Faîte Blanc it was 2000. For Le Faîte Rouge 3 varieties are used: Tannat, Pinenc and Cabernet Sauvignon. For Le Faîte Blanc it is Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac. In essence these wines are the most beautiful expression of the iconic Saint Mont AOC, with an history dating back to the 11th century.
Part of what makes this wine unique is the composition and selection process that is followed. Every vintage has a different split in varieties and origin. The final choice on the blend is made as a group decision in the “assemblage”, where a number of pre-selected blends are rated by professionals from the wine industry. This annual blending is a big event, which we got to attend this year (2023).
Our review of the Le Faîte wines can be found here:
With only about 20,000 bottles of Rouge and 10,000 of Blanc produced yearly these icons are real treasures and are as rare in volume as they are in character. The ultimate expression of Saint Mont and unique because of the regional varieties used and the hard work and love that are put in them. Luxurious and rich wines, with beautiful complexity and balance as well as a strong ageing potential.
Le Faîte receives a special treatment as Plaimont’s icon wine. Every year the grape growers and winemakers gather to debate on the exact assemblage of the two wines (white and red). As mentioned earlier three grape varieties, from different vineyards (each with their own characteristics), make up the final blend, and in order to come to the final blend there is some serious judging needed.
After some preparation a selection of “concept-blends” is presented to a group of wine professionals at the annual Le Faîte blending. These professionals come from different backgrounds, being people from the hospitality industry, wine trade and press. All of them are invited to give their input and vote under the watchful eye of a jury that includes delegates from Plaimont but also two special ambassadors (more about these ambassadors later).
This year we got the privilege to be part of the group of wine professionals, at a special edition of the Le Faîte blending. Special because we celebrated 25-years of this iconic wine. Normally the blending and festivities take place in the Tour de Termes d’Armagnac, a listed historical monument and the central point of the appellation. But for this occasion, the whole group moved to the Peninsula Hotel in France’s capital, Paris. The blending was followed by a tasting of 25 vintages of some of the best Plaimont wines.
25 Vintages of Excellent Wines
After the blending a once-in-25-vintages-tasting took place. Here we got to taste a large selection of vintages of Le Faîte, Rouge et Blanc, going back to the starting vintage of 1997. Interestingly enough even the oldest child of the family, Le Faîte Rouge 1997, was still going strong. A display of great quality. Asking for the remaining potential the response was: “we expect this wine to have some about 7 years remaining of its life”. A total over 30 years, and we are not even surprised, is our thought while we enjoy another sip of this icon.
Besides the largest collected tasting of Le Faîte’s to date there was a selection of “best-of” wines for each vintage out of the total Plaimont portfolio. This included the following reds and whites:
- Château de Sabazan
- Les Vignes Retrouvées
- Château Saint-Go
- Vignes Préphylloxériques
- Cirque Nord
All beautiful wines, each with their own soul and style. Our favorites?
- Cirque Nord 2016 (white): Freshness and complexity, tropical but also rounded and creamy. A beautiful balance with gorgeous tension. Grapes for this wine used to become part of Le Faîte Blanc but we are happy they now have their own place in this wine.
- Monastère 2002 (red) : This red blend could fool you and mistake you for a top Saint-Émilion Cru. After 20 years the fruit is still very much alive but the tannins have found their peace, acting as guardians of the palette. The tertiary development is magnificent, earthy notes, tea leaves, tobacco and much more. All followed by an impressive aftertaste.
Every year the vignerons of Plaimont select two ambassadors to represent their Le Faîte Blanc and Rouge. This tradition started with the first vintage and has brought forward some well-known names and public figures with a love for wine. A small selection of the past ambassadors:
- Tim Atkin, UK, Master of Wine and Journalist
- Caro Maurer, DE, Master of Wine and Journalist
- Pim Nolen, NL, Founder and former director of DGS Wijn
- André Dubosc, FR, Founder and former director of Plaimont
- Olly Smith, UK, Wine journalist and TV host
- Romana Echensperger, GER, Master of Wine and Journalist
Other former ambassadors include Michelin Chefs, top Sommeliers and renowned journalists.
This year both ambassadors are French, of which one has a strong connection with the Netherlands. The 2021 vintage will be represented by Alain Caron and Florent Martin. A fine combination of a well-respected and experienced Chef (Alain) and top Sommelier (Florent).
Born in Paris but his home has been in the Netherlands since more than 40 years. After kickstarting his career in France, he established himself as a chef of name in Amsterdam. Resulting in a collection of three restaurants in the capital which his runs with his wife and two sons. Of course, Alain is a big wine lover and French wines perfectly suit his classical French cooking style. He is also a TV presenter for with his own cooking show.
Is the resident head sommelier of L’Oiseau Blanc, located in the Peninsula. This restaurant is the proud owner of two Michelin stars and Florent is awarded Best Sommelier of France in 2020. Before joining the team in the Peninsula Florent build his experience in “Le Cinq Restaurant” at the Four Seasons George V Hotel and in “Restaurant Le Louis XV” in the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo.
Plaimont x L’Oiseau Blanc
But Plaimont had one more surprise in store for us. A delicious 2-star lunch prepared by the team of L’Oiseau Blanc. The perfect opportunity to discover how Plaimont’s wines perform on the dining table. We enjoyed the following four delicious dishes, paired with various stars from Plaimont, a selection with some of the best from the past 25 vintages.
- Noix de coquille Saint-Jacques | Pomme Charlotte | Lard Paysan | Jus Perle
La Madeleine 2013 | AOC Saint Mont
- Presse de Volaille | Croute de Céréales | Homard | Vinaigrette Estragon
Cirque Nord 2020 | AOC Saint Mont
- Veau de lait d’exception | Salsifis en deux Façons | Sauce Diable | Truffle Noir
Monastère 2014 | AOC Saint Mont
- Pavlova a la Poire | Crémeux Yaourt | Caviar de Citron
L’Empreinte 2017 | AOC Saint Mont
Beautiful creations, both on the plate as in the glass. After this display we are sure, these wines deserve a large audience!
What locals have known for generations is still a secret for a large part of the world. Unfair if you ask us. If these 2 days with Plaimont have taught us anything it is the fact that this cooperation and its home produce great wines with character and incredible potential. It is easy to be blinded by Gascogne’s bigger brother Bordeaux, but what Plaimont delivers is not much short of that what the big Chateaux’s bring forward. Well the only thing that is short is the price. Which gives wine lovers a real edge here.
Plaimont convinced us, and we see a great future ahead for this group of passionate grape growers and winemakers!
We would like to thank Delta Wines – DGS for the opportunity to learn more about Plaimont and their wines, and Plaimont for the excellent event and their beautiful wines. If you are interested in the Plaimont wines, feel free to reach out to DGS who is Plaimont’s proud distributor in the Netherlands.