My first acquaintance with Southwest France was very brief. Driving from Barcelona to Bordeaux I was just passing through, deep in thoughts about the legendary wine region of Bordeaux and its grand crus that I was hoping to visit.
It’s obvious that when you are just starting your wine journey, you try to visit major wine regions, not paying attention to the smaller or less popular ones.
I was so anxious to get to my destination, I’ve driven all the way without really noticing much. Hence, there are only few things I remember about Southwest France – the Medieval splendor of Carcassonne, the pink beauty of Toulouse and breathtaking poppy flower fields alternated by never-ending vineyards.
I had almost forgotten that I’ve been there. And it wasn’t until that tasting of the wines of Southwest France in New York I’ve realized I was familiar with this region, but knew very little about its wines.
The France’s Hidden Corner
The South West France or in French Sud-Ouest is a wine region covering almost a quarter of France. It’s tucked away between the Pyrenees mountains and Spain to the south, Bordeaux to the north, and the Atlantic ocean on the west. If you look at the wine map of Southwest France you can easily see that most of the vine growing areas are scattered along three major rivers – the Dordogne, the Lot, the Garonne, and its tributaries. In total there are about 300 different grapes grown in Southwest, including 120 that are originated exclusively here and that you won’t find anywhere else.
The Wines of Southwest France
Located just south of Bordeaux, the vineyards of Bergerac and its sub-appellations lie along the Dordogne river. This area geographically, historically and economically has been more close to Bordeaux than to the capital of Southwest Toulouse. The climate is similar to that one of Bordeaux with the same Atlantic influence, but slightly warmer temperatures and less rain. Same Bordeaux grape varieties are used to produced similar in style dry reds, rose and sweet dessert wines.
I’ve tasted few wines from this area including red blend from Cotes de Bergerac and sweet wine from Monbazillac.
2015, Chateau Belingrad Reserve, Cotes de Bergerac AOP (~$15)
A meritage of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) and Merlot (50%). Selection of old vines, 13 months in French oak barrels (30% new). Made in more rustic style than similar blend from Bordeaux. Floral nose supported by red berries and a drop of balsamic; intense red fruit flavor developed on a full, sensual tannin texture.
2013, Cuvée Château Tirecul La Gravière, Monbazillac AOP (~$35)
Sweet white dessert wine made in the image of Sauternes. Cuvée of Semillon and Muscadelle made late in the season when botrytis (nobble rot) is widespread throughout the vineyard. If you love Sauternes, but looking for a good value, Monbazillac is a great choice. Try this wine with Bayonne ham (cured ham from Sauthwest France), foie gras, blue cheese, Tajine or fruit dessert.
Further east lies the appellation of Cahors, a home of a popular variety Malbec (called Auxerrois in Cahors), which is often blended with Merlot or/and grape with similar characteristics Tannat. The result is a deep colored powerful reds with voluptuous tannins and subtle aromatics.
2012, Château de Haute Serre, Cahors AOP ( ~$25)
A blend of Malbec (90%) and Merlot. Well-build and powerful, notes of dried fruit, ripe tannins and dry finish. Would be wonderful paired with Duck Magret, traditional French Cassoulet or with a platter of lamb.
Located even further towards Toulouse lies the largest producing appellation of Gaillac, where are the oldest vineyards of the Southwest France found. Gaillac produces a great variety of wines of different styles – white, red, rosé, sweet, and sparkling. The most exciting local grapes are red Duras and Fer Servadou (locally known as Braucol), and white Mauzac and Len de L’el.
2015 Domaine de Terrisses Terre Originelle, Gaillac AOP (~$16)
A blend of Braucol (85%), Prunelart (15%) and Syrah (10%). Ripe cherry, cassis and a touch of vanilla. Solid, with well-integrated tannins and a long finish. Pair with roasted meat or fish in red wine sauce.
Domaine du Moulin Méthode Ancestrale, Gaillac AOP (~$15)
Mauzak (100%), 12% ABV
A lovely sparkling made using the ancestral method, an ancient technique for making sparkling wine, when wine is bottled before its first fermentation has been completed. Clean and elegant with rich fruity flavors of pear and green apple. A perfect porch wine to be enjoyed with apple tart or on its own.
But the most distinctive wines of Southwest France come from Gascony. Madiran is the most famous appellation, and Tannat is its flagship varietal. Rustic and muscular it is often blended with Cabernets and Fer Servadou, and requires at least 2-4 years (10 for the best wines) of aging to develop its best qualities.
2012, Château Montus, Madiran AOP (~$33)
One of the best wines of Madiran. Rich and concentrated with extracted tannins, which are the true backbone of this wine.
Saint-Mont is another appellation within the area of Gascony. Alongside its robust reds, Sant-Mont produces rosé and white wines made from local varieties, Petite Manseng and Gros Manseng.
2016 Héritage Blanc Saint-Mont AOP
A local blend of Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac – the aromatic dry wine with aromas of white peach and sage, fresh and crisp with citrusy accent and peppery finish. Very gastronomic wine, a perfect match for fennel, kale or other light green salad.
2017 Domaine du Tariquet Premières Grives Côtes de Gascogne IGP (~$15)
White wine made of ripe Gros Manseng grape in off-dry style. A bouquet of white flowers and exotic fruit, seductive and complex with dynamic freshness and well-balanced sweetness. Perfect as an aperitif or during a meal with blue cheese, foie gras, cured meat or fruit salad.
2017 Domaine du Tariquet Premières Grives Côtes de Gascogne IGP
As you see many of these wines are similar to Bordeaux in varietal, style and quality. However, unique grape varieties, local terroir and welcoming prices make Southwest an attractive region for any wine lover.
Southwest France: Specialities from Sud-Ouest
All the wines were accompanied by a great choice of local cheese and ham which certainly made the experience even more authentic. Valencay goat cheese stood out the most by its unusual pyramidal shape. It’s coated in ash, which makes it appear intimidating, but the taste is actually quite lovely.
Bayonne ham or Jambon de Bayonne is another specialty of Southwest France. It’s an air-cured French ham produced in the heart of Basque Country. Called a flower of French gastronomy and a Champagne of ham, it has a mild delicate flavor with a hint of saltiness.
Chateau Belingrad (Cotes de Bergerac), Château Tirecul La Gravière (Monbazillac), Domaine du Moulin (Gaillac), Château de Haute Serre (Cahors), Clos Triguedina (Cahors), Vignobles Brumont (Madiran), Chateau Peyros (Madiran), Plaimont Producteurs (Saint-Mont), Domaine du Tariquet (Gascogne).
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