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Robert & Bernard Plageoles

Against the Tide: Earth-to-Glass Gaillac from an Icon of South West France

Appearances can be deceiving. The unique wines of the Plageoles family may seem to be just one of many curios on the market these days; in fact, they are a striking reminder of the wonders of the Gaillac terroir and of why this region was once so famous.

Building on the ground-breaking work of their celebrated father and grandfather before them, it’s Florent and Romain Plageoles who carry the progressive baton today. Both Robert Plageoles and his son, Bernard, were outspoken pioneers in the defence of local grape varieties and ancestral winemaking techniques. Not only have the brothers of the new generation inherited their forebears’ infectious passion for Gaillac’s old traditions, but they are also leading a regional renaissance, making ever-better, ever more charming wines. 

In an article titled “Is French wine the greatest in the world?” Andrew Jefford proposes that, “France’s intricate wine offer isn’t just due to terroir; it’s also the fruit of divine dissatisfaction.” There is no doubt divine dissatisfaction has helped to shape the quality and the style of the Plageoles offering. While the roots of this illustrious estate run deep, it has seldom read from the same hymnbook as the region’s lawmakers. Indeed, Gaillac’s most admired and influential estate (in authentic wine circles at least) does not even carry the name of the appellation. 

The wines—superbly crafted from miserly-yielding indigenous vines and employing low-tech, natural-yeast winemaking—are full of country pride and mouth-watering aromas and flavours.

Plageoles’ long-standing rap sheet with the syndicate includes shunning Gaillac’s so-called ‘improving’ varieties in favour of local indigenous vines. Robert Plageoles took over the running of the estate in the 1970s, going on to become a local icon for identifying and preserving many indigenous cultivars and then pioneering their resurgence in the region. “When I taste Merlot in Corbières it makes my hair stand on end and my stomach sick. We’re in the process of betraying 2,000 years of history,” he told Jefford (in The New France). These old, born-again varieties—including the Mauzac family, Prunelart, Verdanel and Ondenc—now take pride of place in the Plageoles vineyards. 

For those new to the Domaine, these are among the very few Gaillac vignerons who work their soil. Even fewer hand-harvest and fewer still are practicing organic. With the same brand of revolutionary glee as their elders, Florent and Romain Plageoles have instilled more precision in their white wines, whilst upping the energy and bounce in their reds (through a measure of carbonic). 

They are some of the most delicious and great value, off-the-beaten-track wines we ship, and they are a persuasive reminder as to why this region was once so renowned. Gaillac’s wines were fashionable in the Middle Ages, drunk by the counts of Toulouse and the kings of France and England. Slowly but surely, they are becoming trendy again. 

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Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Contre Pied 2019

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Contre Pied 2019

Red. Organic. To be contre-pied is to be diametrically opposed to something. In this case, this carbonic Duras is the opposite of the rustic, sleepy wines associated with this variety (and plenty of Gaillac rouge in general). This wine originates from a block of clay/limestone soil in Cahuzac-sur-Vère. The winemaking takes in a short carbonic maceration followed by six months aging in concrete tank. Florent Plageoles told us that he felt that Duras grapes would take to the Beaujolais treatment, et voila, Contre Pied has now become a mainstay of the Plageoles roster. Expect crunchy acidity and thirst-quenching satisfaction—sappy red fruits, invigorating and tensile acid and soft grainy tannins surround a plump, cherry-like weight. Hints of dark chocolate and spice round out the steely skeleton. In short, a super delicious and unique carbo-styled red.

Florent Plageoles told us that he felt that Duras grapes would take to the Beaujolais treatment, et voila, Contre Pied has now become a mainstay of the Plageoles roster. Expect crunchy acidity and thirst-quenching satisfaction—sappy red fruits, invigorating and tensile acid and soft grainy tannins surround a plump, cherry-like weight. Hints of dark chocolate and spice round out the steely skeleton. In short, a super delicious and unique carbo-styled red.

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Contre Pied 2019
Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Mauzac Nature Sparkling 2020

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Mauzac Nature Sparkling 2020

Organic. Gaillac méthode ancestrale wines are the mother of pét-nats, and there is no better example than the Plageoles Mauzac Nature. Gaillac’s very long history of producing méthode ancestrale sparkling wines goes back to the 1500s (long before Champagne began producing sparkling wines). In fact, so synonymous was Gaillac with pét-nats, back in the day Méthode Gaillacoise was a widely used synonym for méthode ancestrale. The Plageoles example is from a 40-year-old parcel of the exceptionally rare Mauzac Rose grape variety. In simple terms, the naturally fermented base wine is chilled to stop the fermentation when there is still 25-30 g/L residual sugar. The following spring, the wine is put into bottle and the fermentation continues under cork, producing the bubbles. There are no other additions and no need for dosage, as the bottle fermentation naturally stops when there is still a touch of residual sugar left in the wine.It’s a wild, lip-smacking, slightly off-dry delight, fragrant and textural with sweet pear, cider apple, and a hint of musk. A beautiful pillowy texture leads to a complex, flavourful close, balanced by a kiss of natural sweetness. A pét-nat of sheer refreshment! As there is no disgorgement, you can expect a slight cloudiness in the bottle. 

It’s a wild, lip-smacking, slightly off-dry delight, fragrant and textural with sweet pear, cider apple, and a hint of musk. A beautiful pillowy texture leads to a complex, flavourful close, balanced by a kiss of natural sweetness. A pét-nat of sheer refreshment! As there is no disgorgement, you can expect a slight cloudiness in the bottle.

“The first time I tasted [Plageoles] Mauzac Nature was in the late ‘90s—in a wine bar called Le Mauzac. It had just been put on the market, and its exhilarating freshness made me laugh out loud with pleasure. Most recently I drank the 2014 Mauzac Nature… Quand Meme!!! A blend of strong citrus flavors mixed with ginger, apple, and light minerality, it was structured, fresh and vigorous. Pure pleasure. There is only one thing to say to the Plageoles: Thank you.”
Jacqueline Friedrich, The World of Fine Wine
Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Mauzac Nature Sparkling 2020
Domaine Plageoles Gaillac L'Ondenc Sec 2020

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac L'Ondenc Sec 2020

Dry White. Organic. Under Florent Plageoles, the whites of this domaine have improved out of sight, with texture and clarity the prominent benefactors. This bottling comes from a small parcel of this obscure, ancient Tarn variety planted in 1983 when Ondenc was almost extinct. Plageoles started with just two rows of vines rooted in the argilo-calcaire of Cahuzac-sur-Vère, although the plantings have gradually increased over the years. Simply whole-bunch pressed and fermented wild in concrete before being bottled unfiltered, Plageoles’ Ondenc has been described by Jon Bonné as tasting like “a Rhône white if you added some iodine and peat moss”—a good call even if, in our experience, in the cooler Atlantic-influenced years this wine possesses more assertive acidity than a typical white Rhône. 2020 is not one of those fresher years, so instead you get a delicious brew of fuzzy orchard fruits, scented florals and subtle spice with a lovely textural feel, all balanced by a vein of salinity and juicy acidity. Plate up and pour yourself a glass of history.

Plageoles’ Ondenc has been described by Jon Bonné as tasting like “a Rhône white if you added some iodine and peat moss”—a good call even if, in our experience, in the cooler Atlantic-influenced years this wine possesses more assertive freshness than a typical white Rhône. 2020 is not one of those fresher years, so instead you get a delicious brew of fuzzy orchard fruits, scented florals and subtle spice with a lovely textural feel, all balanced by a vein of salinity and juicy acidity. Plate up and pour yourself a glass of history.

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac L'Ondenc Sec 2020
Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Le Braucol 2019

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Le Braucol 2019

Braucol is more commonly known in the southwest of France as Fer Servadou (or Mansois in Marcillac). This bottling comes from a parcel of 30- to 35-year-old vines grown on clay and limestone soils. You could think of it as a Gaillac Pinot, or Beaujolais with some sappy stems—but of course, it has its own irresistible personality that reflects both a unique grape and its singular terroir.Florent Plageoles now vinifies this wine with 50% carbonic, and the result is all the brighter and more gluggable for it. Yields are kept low, bringing flavour and intensity, and the aging occurs only in cement tank with no filtration. It’s another vibrant, bright and juicy wine and shares similarities with the Contre Pied, before deviating down a slightly darker fruit path with an emboldened savoury spine. A reductive appearance to start, this quickly makes way for red- and blue-fruited freshness, crushed rock minerality and assertive tannins that evoke a tactile response. Compounding the complexity, there’s notes of green herbs and salinity. It finishes with accomplishment and class. “Du glouglou pour le printemps,” (for glugging in the springtime) says Bernard Plageoles, father of Florent and Romain. But why stop at springtime?

Florent Plageoles now vinifies this wine with 50% carbonic, and the result is all the brighter and more gluggable for it. Yields are kept low, bringing flavour and intensity, and the aging occurs only in cement tank with no filtration. It’s another vibrant, bright and juicy wine and shares similarities with the Contre Pied, before deviating down a slightly darker fruit path with an emboldened savoury spine. A reductive appearance to start, this quickly makes way for red- and blue-fruited freshness, crushed rock minerality and assertive tannins that evoke a tactile response. Compounding the complexity, there’s notes of green herbs and salinity. It finishes with accomplishment and class. “Du glouglou pour le printemps,” (for glugging in the springtime) says Bernard Plageoles, father of Florent and Romain. But why stop at springtime?

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Le Braucol 2019
Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Doux Le Loin de L'Oeil 2022 (500ml)

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Doux Le Loin de L'Oeil 2022 (500ml)

Sweet. Organic. Quietly (yet rather brilliantly), Domaine Plageoles has for decades been dedicating itself to resuscitating—and then making outstanding wines from—the ancient yet unheralded grapes of the local terroir. Loin de l’Oeil is one of the many varieties first brought back from near-extinction by this Gaillac artisan. The name translates as ‘far from the eye’, the eye being the bud and the distance alluding to the long-stemmed bunches of this vine, which are far from these ‘eyes’. When their Loin de l’Oeil reaches phenolic maturity in the Plageoles vineyards, the team pinches the stem at the top of each bunch. This method arrests the ripening and concentrates sweetness and acidity. Following harvest, the fruit is whole-bunch pressed, and the wine is naturally fermented in old oak barrels fabricated from the nearby Grésigne forest. The 2022 gifts a classic varietal fruit spectrum of apricot and blossom alongside engaging scents of confit lemon, molasses, and dried fruits. The palate is well balanced, sweet/savoury and tangy, driven by a refreshing, spicy finish. Residual sugar clocks in at around 120 g/L, and the volatiles and extract keep the wine perfectly pitched, fresh and clean. With the same stone fruit/lemon drizzle spectrum, and a gentle twist of balsamic volatility, this will happily replace a Sauternes or Barsac at the table—without the hefty price tag.

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Doux Le Loin de L'Oeil 2022 (500ml)
Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Doux Mauzac Roux 2022

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Doux Mauzac Roux 2022

Semi-sweet. Organic. Mauzac Roux is one of the seven varieties of the Mauzac family farmed by the Plageoles. The grapes are picked in three passes through the vines and, in strong botrytis years, roughly half the yield comes from botrytis-affected fruit. Regardless of the conditions, the yields generate only 25 hl/ha of fragrant golden juice in an average year. In terms of residual, at 80 g/L this is the driest sweet wine in the range and the only one fermented and matured exclusively in cement tanks. It’s a wine that fully expresses the unique charm of the Plageoles style; all honey, nectarine and citrus marmalade tanginess, the silky sheen of the texture offset by ripples of crisp acidity and length of flavour. It tastes drier than its residual would suggest but is nonetheless viscous in the mouth with delicately phrased layers of citrus oil, spun sugar and candied botrytis tang. Like most Plageoles wines, this is both fascinating and delicious. A first-rate value to complement fruit-based desserts such as pears poached in white wine.

Domaine Plageoles Gaillac Doux Mauzac Roux 2022
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“The Plageoles family has left its mark on the recent history of Gaillac wine. They continue to produce off the beaten track, wines with a strong personality... The work of the head, heart and hands is reflected today in a range of wines that are absolutely flawless, pure and righteous.” La Revue du Vins de France

Country

France

Primary Region

Southwest France

People

Winemakers: Florent & Romain Plageoles

Availability

National

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