This Monday’s EU Austerity Drinking Tour finds us 98 days into our alcohol-on-a-dime traipse through Europe’s famed regions. We leave glitzy but wet Bordeaux for southern France. Our hub will be Toulouse: a city surrounded by ignored but extreme value wine regions.
We leave Bordeaux still drenching in Atlantic rain.
But as the TGV speeds East, the sun emerges, mossy trees trade fade to gnarly shrubs, and the world becomes dry, calm, and continental in climate. Here the mellow Mediterranean holds more sway than the wet churn of the Atlantic.
Like St Émilion, Toulouse provided a relic-packed hitching post for pilgrims headed to Santiago de Compostela. Brick churches grew up on every block. But the sprawling St. Sernin hosted the most pilgrims and saint bits.
This is Europe’s largest Romanesque church. Bright, stiff frescoes still cling to its forest of vaults.
And a bug-eyed Christ guards the main altar, reliquary, and Roman church beneath.
Back in the sun, we stumble onto the Jacobin Church. Late medieval arches interweave like a Tim Burton kaleidoscope.
Not to be outdone, the remains of St Thomas Aquinas (Mr. Reason/Lets-Make Aristotle Christian) lie in something out of Indiana Jones:
But there’s more to Toulouse than churches. The language clips and lisps along sounding more Spanish than French. It houses fantastic cheese shops, pastry makers, and markets. France’s fourth largest city bustles with life, mixing elites and poor alike of all races.
But we came to drink. Our Bordeaux flu has finally passed. So we sample the region back at our hostel, which fills not with students but illegal workers from Africa (who made fantastic food).
Appearance: It looks a clear, average ruby color.
Aromas: Developing moderate aromas of cinnamon, chocolate, blackberries, and cigar show up.
Palate: This Gaillac shows only medium acidity. Medium tannins feel peppery. Body and alcohol feel medium. It is complex but in balance.
Flavors: Tastes dark and hot with blackberry, plum, tomato, oak cedar and chocolate.
Conclusions: The medium plus length and complexity show promise. But a slight fizz of volatile acidity hints at a warm ferment or storage and relegates this to only good (3 of 5) quality. Still a nice pasta red.
Our glasses then shoot southwest nearing Pyrenees foothills and the region of Madiran:
Aromas: smell of black olive, dry leaf, a clean beach-wood bonfire, and, oh yeah, black fruit.
Palate: feels low on acid, with medium, dusty tannins, a medium alcohol of 13.5, yielding a mid-weight body. Nothing showy here, just ripe, dusty fruit.
Flavors: taste of a medium intense bonfire (if you’ve ever tasted bonfire let me know), dried black cherry, dusty dry earth, and anise.
Conclusions: A medium length, dried earth, and somewhat overdone oak roast make this good (3 of 5) not great. It lacks much middle fruit but clearly fits with such a hot, dry climate. It begs for a grilled, roasted, bbq’d anything or a hard cheese.
Finally we head to Fronton: a region just downriver from Toulouse:
Appearance: looks a much darker ruby purple, with a narrow clear rim.
Aromas: smell of medium intense cherry marmalade, mint leaf, and olive tapenade.
Palate: refreshing acidity balances a even keel of tannins, alcohol, and body.
Flavors: taste of oddly refreshing of bright raspberry and black cherry, contrasting a sultry second note of pepper, olive, and salt on the medium length finish.
Conclusions: Chateau Bellevue la Forêt makes a very good (4 of 5) red. This Fronton tastes refreshingly rustic, with a lovely olive streak throughout. The perfect dinner drink from a region of extreme value.
We love Toulouse. However, Bordeaux, the flue and weeks of rushing through Western France have worn us. We need a change. Next Monday: our EU Austerity Drinking Tour heads to the little country of Andorra.