Known as Pinenc in Madiran and Béarn, Braucol in Gaillac, and Fer or Fer Servadou in most wine texts, the vignerons in the Aveyron department call their local vine Mansois. By whatever name it’s known, Fer is decidedly obscure and certainly indigenous to the greater Southwest of France, most particularly and importantly to the tiny AOC of Marcillac. For it is only in Marcillac, along with the even more esoteric Vins d’Estaing and Vins d’Entraygues et du Fel, that Fer Servadou plays a solo role.
The linguists among you may recognize the etymon Fer as the Latin root of ferrous: of or relating to iron. In the case of Fer Servadou, this is a direct reference to the wood of the vine which is “hard as steel” and hence quite demanding for vineyard hands during picking and pruning seasons. Whether it is by nature of the iron rich soils, known as rougier, of the Aveyron or simply the imagination at work with words, the wines from this region often do possess an iron-like, sanguine aroma, along with a telltale whiff of rhubarb.
Marcillac, situated just to the northwest of the region’s principal town of Rodez, has been among the slowest appellations of Southwest France to recover from the devastation wreaked by phylloxera in the late 19th Century. Today, only 300 acres are farmed by a tiny handful of growers, most of who send their produce to the local coop for vinification and bottling. Only a few independent estates have clawed their way back to sustenance.
The largest – and arguably the finest – of these private estates is Domaine du Cros. For four generations, from grafting after the phylloxera epidemic to the early 1980’s, Domaine du Cros consisted of only one hectare, with an annual production of a mere 4,000 bottles. Since 1982, under the direction of current winemaker and family head Philippe Teulier, the estate has slowly grown to its present 25 hectares. 21 of those hectares are planted solely to Fer for the production of AOC Marcillac wines, of which they produce four: three red cuvées and a single rosé.
Dr. Vino, the organizer of this month’s installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday, threw down a couple of bonus point challenge options: drink the wine of indigenous vine in its place of origin or try two different wines, one from the historical home of the vine and one from an area to which the vine has migrated in more recent times. Well, I wasn’t able to make it to Marcillac in the last few weeks. And Fer really hasn’t been planted outside of its historical homes in SW France. So, I adopted my own twist to the challenge: try two different Marcillacs. Luckily, I just happened to have a couple of M. Teulier’s wines hibernating in my little cellar.
Marcillac “Lo Sang del Païs,” Domaine du Cros 2004
In the Occitan dialect, “Lo Sang del Païs” means “the blood of the country.” There’s no better way to describe Philippe’s basic red – suitable for drinking over its first 3-4 years in bottle – which so perfectly captures the rustic charm of the region as well as the typicity of its wines. Medium bodied and distinctly aromatic of rhubarb, white pepper, cassis and raspberries, this cuvée has just enough grip to stand up to the traditionally hearty foods of the SW but is also versatile enough to have qualified as one of my regular go-to wines for the everyday table. The most obvious points of comparison might be the medium bodied reds of Chinon or Bourgueil, or perhaps a sturdy rendition of Dolcetto d’Alba. But it has a personality uniquely its own. This bottle threw a considerable amount of sediment (take a close look at the picture) but was still drinking with plenty of nerve and freshness after three years. I can’t think of a better wine to accompany grilled sausages. Even yummier would be beef or lamb burgers, particularly when topped off or stuffed with Bleu d’Auvergne.
The 2004 set me back US $11.50 at time of release. 12% alcohol. Imported by Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.
Marcillac “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes,” Domaine du Cros 2000
Teulier’s old vine bottling is sourced from vines between 50-90 years of age. After a 25 day vinification regime in temperature controlled steel, it spends about 18 months in 2500 liter foudres. Though most of these casks are of French oak, Philippe still utilizes a few chestnut barrels which are as old as, if not older than, his vieilles vignes. With a more intense structure, a result of both vine maturity and the approach in the cellar, this cuvée typically begins drinking well at around three years of age and can last up to ten.
When first poured, the aromas of this 2000 were not unlike those of a mid-life Médoc: red and black cassis with a hint of graphite and strong minerality. True to Marcillac, those traits were accompanied by a distinct pepperiness and iron-like earthiness. The wine was firm and more finely textured on the palate than its little brother. It gave me a distinct impression of winter plum pudding. It also struck me as drinking perfectly at its peak. Maturity had been reached but the inevitable downturn had yet to begin. After about 30 minutes in the glass, the "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes" took on a more Rhône-like aroma, showing some of the spice and rich raspberry, black cherry fruit typical to good Gigondas or Vacqueyras. Ripe, zesty tannins persisted to the end, making it a great choice for the herb-rubbed leg of lamb which I grilled to accompany it.
Approximately US $16 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Imported by Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.