Albas Wine Festival

Albas Wine Festival

Largest Cahors wine festival in one tiny village
Albas is a charming little village, built entirely of the local stone and wedged precariously into a rocky cleft on the left bank of the river. The population is normally pretty stable at around 500 – that’s if you include all the surrounding farms and hamlets – but on one particular day each May it swells to over six thousand. It’s the day of the annual fête du vin and the whole village bows in worship of the grape and gives itself up to the pleasures of the table. The thought of six thousand inebriated people crammed into little Albas was arresting, to say the least; surely they’d be falling into the river? I decided I’d better go along – purely in the course of duty – to see what it was all about and what measures had been taken to prevent a watery end.

Albas Wine Festival

Albas Wine Festival

Festivals of this magnitude are all day affairs and this one started with a ten o’clock mass in the local church. This was followed by a huge and appropriately boozy lunch for those who felt they could cope with it. Prepared by one of Cahors’ top chefs, strictly limited, rather expensive, definitely booked well in advance and not for the faint-hearted. After the initial feasting the true business of the day got under way. Eight of the local vineyards and one guest vigneron were offering dégustations of their 2003 vintage, each in one of the cool, dark cellars hewn from the very rock under the village houses, hundreds of years ago. With the exception of the main thoroughfare, all the streets had been closed to the public, the only way in was through a roped off walkway, after payment of twelve euros. For this princely sum, I received a small glass engraved with the logo of this year’s festival. Now I could wander up and down at my leisure, visit all the caves and taste the delicious harvest of the hottest summer for years. At least I could in theory. In practice there are only so many tastings the tummy can take before the eyes begin to cross; I reached this stage in about the fifth cave. I found myself propped against the cold stone, grinning vacuously at one of the local ‘beautiful people’ who hadn’t quite made it to San Francisco but was nevertheless wearing lilac flowers in his hair. Next door a jazz band – average age sixty – was pulsating with fascinating rhythm. I departed in search of a sop for the alcohol before things got completely out of control.

Naturally this contingency had been well provided for. One could either purchase a sandwich of Foie Gras or local Rocamadour Cheese from a vast pile at an impromptu snack bar, or there was the village restaurant, fully booked, fit to burst and doing a roaring trade. Lastly, if you were feeling really hungry you could join the official supper party, another twelve euros but well worth it judging from the enticing aromas wafting up from the vast marquee. Places limited to twelve hundred! I bought a Rocamadour sandwich and went gallantly in search of cave number six.

Albas Wine Festival

Albas Wine Festival

It was nearing seven o’clock by this time and the streets were thronged. The pre-dinner crowd had arrived for a quick aperitif before rushing home for four or five courses of splendid Quercynoise cuisine. Personally I was beginning to find it a little tricky to distinguish between the good, the not so good and the downright indifferent. I decided I’d had more than enough of the wine, bring on the cake.

The party-piece of this grand show was a gigantic gâteau made by one of the country’s premier patissiers, fifteen hundred portions of gooey gâteau, a masterpiece in anybody’s book. It wasn’t to be served until after the dinner though, so I decided to eschew the final revelries and go home to nurse my embryo hangover.

Albas Wine Festival

Albas Wine Festival

I fought my way back up the winding streets, fending off the masses and admiring the incredibly intricate paper sculptures that decorated the ancient stone walls. A wonderful dancing pink pig, the official emblem of this year’s fête adorned one of the little alleyways. Bacchus himself held court in another and several more sculptures of a vinous nature were suspended over our heads. The children of the village were gathering in happy little groups, enjoying the late sunshine and the late night out. One of them approached me with a courteous half bow and introduced himself, with great aplomb, as a friend of my daughter’s. He’d like to take her to the cinema he informed me. I hedged slightly, and stood on one leg. They are both ten years old!

Albas wine festival. A wonderful place to be on a certain weekend in May, I commend it to you.


© Amanda Lawrence 2005

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Albas Wine Festival 2005 from French Vie

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