Cover Photo: The rather unfortunate sculpture of “lovers’ embrace” at Château Cransac in Fronton, which has its own very crude but obvious nickname, and which some claim is more apt as a logo for the wine than the Chateau itself.
Embedded in the word Denominationalism is the smaller but rather more telltale word Nationalism. It is there for a reason.
We used to live just 18km away. That’s about 11 miles. But in just that short distance, we changed our AOC. That is, we changed zones in which the predominant “denomination” of wine went from Gaillac (then) to Fronton (now).
This is not just a zipe-code type label delineating geography. In fact, how much the distinction means to a French person, particularly a French person born and raised within 10km of either of these AOCs, is hard to express.
I could call it a flavor. A tradition. A way of making wine from certain land, with certain cépages, certain ways of doing things. But in France it takes on a much broader more spiritual significance: A way of life in the particularity of relationship of local culture and local food to the local land in its holistic entirety.
They have a single word for this: terroir.
Indeed, the AOC distinction defines a way of being. I mean, the difference between a Bordeaux and a Côtes de Bordeaux is a single step in space over an arbitrary boundary. But try to tell that to any Frenchman facing those two wine bottles on a table!
Now Gaillac is, by any standard, and most especially by its own standard, a vin noble. So is Fronton. But Fronton has the reputation, whether earned or libelous, of being more industrial and less artisanal, less ancient, less pure, less “good.”
And so while both are recognized AOC noble wines, the Gaillac is at least commonly recognized as “better.”
I say commonly with a little hedge for insurance, because already if my words in that paragraph were translated into French and if those words were to get out to our neighbors, I would fear for our futures and property on this riverbank!
The Fronton contingent, in turn, might say that the Gaillac is “overrated.” We are Frontonnais now, and it’s best to side with the team you play on. (Though don’t tell anyone, but we still stock more Gaillac in the cave than Fronton – call it a recalcitrance of the deeply indoctrinated after forced conversions.)
I have more to say about the emergence of tertiary AOCs as real players in the world wine market (nowhere to go but up in quality when you’ve so rigorously defined what is or is not a certain AOC, right?) but both Gaillac and Fronton have made tremendous strides in quality in just the last dozen years.
Still, this is the conversation we have most often with our old neighbors:
“Oh, you lived in the Gaillac? How wonderful!”
“Yes, we did, for several years, but now we live in the Fronton, just à côté, in fact.”
“Oh. [pregnant pause, a look away] I see. Well it is still wine, technically.”
And with the new:
“Oh! You were rescued from certain snobbery and mindless pretensions! How lucky you are to live here now, with us, where the wine does not hide behind its pedigree or name but stands for itself!”
Fronton is the kind of wine you can serve with sausages or escargot (another local specialty, and not by coincidence, one assumes) and not even worry if you have a proper wine glass to serve it in. It goes just fine in a tumbler or plastic cup.
Maybe this suits us, after all. We were never much worthy in those respects of Gaillac. But we are not ready to part with our secret cache of Gaillac just yet. There is still a little of that old fine dirt in our own terroir.