At the Plaimont St Mont en Fête festival I discovered some wonderful and quirky wines and that the true spirit of carnival lives on.
When wine co-operative Producteurs Plaimont invited me to attend the festival Plaimont St Mont en Fête in Gascony, South West of France, it would have been foolish of me not to say yes. Not only did I need a break from grimy London but this event would be a great opportunity to visit a part of France that I hadn’t been to before. What’s more, as well as being a wine and food lover, I also have an interest in the carnivalesque. (To see some of my articles on this visit my website) So a weekend of wine, food and carnival: how could I refuse?
But having accepted my invitation and packed my bags I started to worry. One of the key phenomena of traditional carnival is that it is a special occasion, a time where normal social hierarchies don’t apply: the king becomes the fool and the fool becomes king etc. As the St Mont festival is only twenty years old and does not date back to the great carnival era, i.e. the Middle Ages, I worried that the essential ‘liminality’, the ‘other worldliness’ vital to the true carnival spirit, might not exist. After all the carnivalesque is not something that can be created, it happens naturally or not at all.
I worried further when I heard that Producteurs Plaimont own 98% of the Saint Mont appellation and that this festival is also a platform for showing their wines. I was prepared to be disappointed and to drag my way through a blatant wine promotion; the sort of event where promo staff, chosen for their nubile looks over their expertise, pour plastic thimbles of wine for an increasingly drunken crowd.
So you can imagine how delighted I was when standing amongst the throng in Saint Mont on Saturday morning I witnessed a Harley Davidson gang riding into the village and start chatting up a group of local, middle aged ladies, dressed as nuns, who responded with appropriately girlish-glee. Hurrah I thought, this is the true spirit of carnival, the inappropriate flirtation, the triumph of the human. Plaimont Saint Mont en Fête might not be historic but it is a true carnival. I could relax.
The festival centred around a street theatre performance which re-enacted the tale of how the Monastery in Saint Mont was established in the 11the century. To be honest it’s the sort of theatre that only really works if you know somebody in the cast, but I still appreciated the joie de vivre and the moments of incongruity that a group of people dressed as monks and peasants wandering about in the twenty-first century affords. Plus the costumes set the carnival tone and there was a general feeling of conviviality throughout the village.
So after a hearty round of applause it was off to the wine tastings. French wineries are often criticised for operating a closed-door policy. I have sympathy for both sides in the debate. It’s a tall order to expect a hard working, self-employed, vigneron to break off a day’s work in order to show a couple of tourists, who may or may not buy, round their set up. But equally if you have travelled several 100/1000 miles in order to taste Madiran/St Mont in the place where it was grown, it is easy to feel short-changed by a less than welcoming wine grower.
The Plaimont St Mont en Fête is a great answer to the problem. There are tastings going on at the various wineries owned by the co-operative plus there are a number of marquees also offering wines. These tastings are manned by the wine growers and Producteur Plaimont staff, so if you ask a question, you will get a proper response. And while the atmosphere here is relaxed and lively there’s a serious side. Most people are leaving with at least one case of wine in the boot of their car. So this means that a) people are watching their alcohol in take and b) they are making some careful decisions about they actually spend their money on.
Our party ate lunch in another marquee, joining other revellers on long trestle tables and chatting with our neighbours in true carnival spirit. This being the South West we were served duck in various guises: duck soup, duck gizzard salad, duck maigret and best of all a very tasty duck foie gras, cooked in aluminium foil on the grill. (To see my South West recipes visit the Duck Soup recipe page above right).
We had another duck-fest in the evening at Le Vieux Logis restaurant in Aignan before trouping off to a couple of parties. It was here that my sense of carnival failed me. I’ve never been a fan of French rock music and fourth-rate, full-decimal cover versions of Pink Floyd and REM tested my largesse d’esprit beyond its limits, so I headed back to the hotel leaving my more robust colleagues behind. Overall though, a good time had been had by all.
Here are some of my favourite Producteurs Plaimont wine discoveries:
Saint Mont le Faîte 2006
This wine is a true showcase for South West white grapes. Made from 50% Gros Manseng, 20% Petit Courbu, 15% Arrufiac and 15% Petit Manseng. The nose smells of bruised apples and mint. The palate is creamy with a touch of mint, apricots and honey with terrific length. This is a high-brow white wine.
Saint Mont Rosé de Campagne 2008
This is a serious pink. Made from the South West grape variety Tannat plus Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc it has a herbaceous/tea aroma and bone dry strawberry palate making it a great food as well as quaffing wine.
Saint Mont, Rive Haute 2005
A savoury, rubber-smelling nose, uplifted by some pretty floral notes. This mix of Tannat, Pinnec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes make this a delicious, muscular and meaty wine. It has the bonus of an attractive lick of acidity and very long length. At four years old there’ll be plenty of life in this wine for years to come.
Saint Mont, Château de Sabazan 2006
A beautiful rich wine with lots of leathery, herbaceous notes on the nose and palate. Again this has that typical South West acidity that turns a blockbuster into an attractive and fresh wine.
Saint Mont, Le Monastre du Saint Mont 2006
A more mainstream version of Saint Mont, this wine is softer with a chocolatey note and cherry fruit. But it has a quirky touch of bees wax and violets on the nose and the typical South West freshness making it a true reflection of the region.
Saint Mont, Le Monastre du Saint Mont 2005
A year older and from a hotter vintage than the above, this wine is showing more coffee-chocolate liqueur flavours. These follow through on to the palate but the famed 2005 heat didn’t burn off all the Tannat acidity and the wine remains fresh and appealing.
We enjoyed these two sweet wines with a delicious selection of foie gras. Choosing the favourite was a tough call but at a pinch I think the 2002 made the better match.
Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Saint Albert, 2007
A lovely, light and pretty sweet wine with a complex palate with almond, sultana, apricot and quince flavours. Very fresh.
Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, La Saint Sylvestre, 2002
Harvested on the 31st December from shrivelled grapes, this is a fabulous, mature, sweet wine. With caramel, linseed oil and ripe peach flavours on the palate. A real treat.
To find out more about Producteurs Plaimont visit: