If you have to use ‘Wine X’ magazine as a reference for a column, chances are the inmates have taken over the asylum.
Although I do get a kick out of the fact that said publication, once purporting to target culturally literate, street-savvy Gen Y wine drinkers, missed this demographic entirely—in part because most of the writing staff was considerably older. Trying to jive-up your voice to appeal to someone fifteen years your junior is at best lame—Millennial for ‘disingenuous’—and at worst, the mom in the SkinnyJeans and the dad with the pony tail, both confused at the smirks their kids give them, making them shrug their shoulders and go, ‘What…?’
Plus, the masthead reads ‘Executive Producer: Jason Priestly’—the washed-up 43-year-old former toy boy of Beverly Hills, 90210—which may have been borderline name-droppy in 1997 when the magazine was founded, but today looks almost sad, like the byline is doing more for his career than for Wine X’s.
Generation Y The F**k Not?
In any case, for whatever reason, Wine X reared up its head immediately when I ran the usual Google search for today’s topic of titillation, southern France’s Midi-Pyrénées; this surprised me, because I thought the mag folded in 2008 and really, offered nothing of value about the region.
But then it occurred to me that actually, Midi-Pyrénées just the sort of indie Echo Boomer appellation that should excite this sprawling, multi-faced generation:
• Like them, it is massive (at 17,500 square miles, Midi-Pyrénées is the largest wine region in France—larger, in fact, than eight of the EU countries) while 80 million Millennials make up 30% of the U.S. population.
• Like them, it is young, having likewise been born in the last part of the twentieth century.
• Like them, it refuses to be pigeonholed, and shows as many sides as there are AOCs contained within.
• Like them, it is in-your-face aggressive, self-centered, flying-by-the-seat-of-its-pants and as eager to find an identity separate from nearby Bordeaux as Generation Y is to make a rep for themselves removed from that sported by the Baby Busters of Gen X.
In short, if I was going to target this demographic with a wine magazine, this is exactly the sort of off-the-beaten-path location I’d be covering.
The history of the Midi-Pyrénées—which only became a defined bureaucratic entity in the 1970’s—can be seen as a series of border tiffs with the French generally coming up with the end of the stick you wouldn’t lick. It began in the Bronze Age—as seen through artifacts, not written history—it was the Roman conquest in 200 BCE that was most significant. Then, as now, the capital of the territory was Toulouse (called Palladia Tolosa); it became one of the major cities in the Empire, mainly because its position on the a strategic place on the Garonne was among the most advantageous river crossings in southern France.
That all ended in the 5th century AD when the Rhine was breached and the barbarians poured in; they sacked Rome and three years later showed up in Toulouse—which, for the same reason the Romans liked it, became the capital of the Visigoth kingdom.
Ultimately, around 800 AD, Charlemagne saved the day, but not after a series of invasions by the Alemanni, the Vandals and then the Visigoths again. The only other hiccup happened with those uppity gnostics, the Cathars—a strange, generally despised sect of extremist Catholicism with origins in Languedoc; the Cathars were finally put in their place by the Albigensian Crusade (1209–1229) with a bit of mopping up by the Inquisition.
Other than that, it’s just been a bunch of French people wandering around with pitchforks.
What Changed With the Midi-Pyrénées Classification?
Sort of like OPEC, where a number of disparate countries realized that their individual interests were best safeguarded through solidarity, so did the various communes in the south of France come to see that collectively, they would have more national clout. So, to serve as a zone of influence for Toulouse, eight former provinces fused together as a single entity—one without historical, cultural or, in the case of Gascony, even linguistic unity.
Of the newly formed ensemble:
24% is Gascony. This history-soaked region has long been associated with the Basques of northern Spain, and in fact the traditional language of Gascony is very similar to Basque. The sub-region’s AOC that is most familiar to Americans is probably Madiran, which is divided into two smaller white wine AOCs—Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec. Grape of choice for Madiran reds is the big, brutal tannat, which finds itself suited to the climate, but still requires several years of aging to soften up, even when blended with cabernet franc. Look for the wines of Alain Brumont; especially those from Château Bouscassé and Château Montus.
Madiran whites cover the spectrum of dry, sweet and sparkling, in the main composed of Courbu and Petit Manseng. The sweet wines are, perhaps, undiscovered gems among late-harvested ‘dessert’ wines; they generally don’t undergo the botrytis infection of nearby Sauternes and can be had for a fraction of the cost. Château Barrejat, for example, runs about $13 for a full fifth.
23% is Languedoc: How important is this region to French wine production—particularly to the surplus EU supply known as the ‘wine lake’? Figure that Languedoc grows a third of all grapes in France, primarily the traditional Rhône varietals carignan, mourvedre, grenache, syrah and viognier, with a spate of new investors planting higher-demand merlot, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. As befits the quantity, the quality of Languedoc wines is pretty much across the board; red styles range from thick and clumsy to pretty and multi-layered—even soft where the Beaujolais technique of carbonic maceration is employed. Try Grange des Pères on the pricier end of the Languedoc scale and Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup on the other.
White Languedoc wines are equally diverse, and the mouthful of varietals—the Rhône classics plus the late ripening vermentino and maccabéo in Languedoc-Roussillon—produce bright, floral wines with fruit reminiscent of cantaloupe, green apples and Key lime.
20% is Rouergue: Despite a land mass of 3,400 square miles and a population of a quarter million, I can’t find much dope on the wines of this area other than the fact that among the vast vineyard holdings of centuries past, not many remain. Why? I can’t say. Wine X: Li’l help?
17% is a pack of Pyrenean provinces from County of Foix in the east spreading out to Bigorre in the west, near Lourdes where the water is said to be so remarkable that it could revive Jason Priestley’s career. The wines cover most of the varietals grown successfully in southwest Franc—tannat, cab franc, petit verdot, sauvignon blanc, gros manseng, etc.
15% is Quercy: The traditional capital Cahors is now the préfecture of the Lot département; ‘Cahors’ is another name that jumps out at wine people as familiar, just as ‘Lot’ may to salt fans. The fabled ‘Black Wine of Cahors’ is mostly malbec, and like Madiran, can bash you in the skull with an oak log when in its youth—it’s certainly not to be confused with the lyrical, fruit-driven malbecs of Mendoza. Among the best are Clos Bican-Ségur, Les Hauts de Saint-Georges and Point de vente Côtes d’Olt.
Coteaux de Quercy is another important appellation in Lot. Situated between Gaillac and Cahors, the wines here are predominantly cabernet franc. The wines of the Gaillac, established even before the Roman occupation, may be red, white, still or sparkling and still wear the Gaillac AOC.
To the extreme west of Tarn-et-Garonne and south of Périgord (known, of course, for its foie gras and truffles) is Agenais, extending over the Aquitaine region and making up about 1/2 % of Midi-Pyrénées’ area. Notable among the usual suspects—cab franc, tannat and malbec—is the use of gamay to soften the harsh tannins of young reds and make them accessible earlier.
With that kind of kaleidoscopic smorgasbord of omnifarious scrumptosities, I certainly believe that there is a niche market for a brand-new magazine, this one targeting… what are we on now, Generation Z…? Or is it a flip-around to Gen A again—you know it has to happen considering the imbeciles started Genning so goddamn far down the alphabet…
Anyway, I’m proposing a Gen Whatever magazine, all Midi-Pyrénées all the time, specifically targeting fetuses who will just be coming of age when the first bottle of Madiran 2013 becomes drinkable.
Maybe I’ll see if Jennie Garth can come up the seed money