For good reason, France has long been a dominant voice in the wine industry as an important wine producer and consumer. With Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne as its calling cards, French wines are widely acknowledged and recognized to be among the best in the world, essentially setting the standard for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Traditional Method sparkling wines.
But, just a proverbial stone’s throw from Bordeaux, the wines of southwest France offer interesting and unusual options that are worth checking out. Admittedly, winemaking in this region is not new; it dates to 125 BCE. Yet, while Bordeaux has held vinous fame and fortune for centuries, these smaller appellations have been largely ignored…until now.
Today, the region is home to many small producers who are crafting diverse wines at affordable prices. To this end, although many of France’s heralded grapes are given space in these vineyards, the real discoveries are those varieties found nowhere else – Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Mauzac and Arrufiac are among the top whites, with Fer Servadou, Prunelard and Négrette leading the reds.
The vast diversity is impressive; wines range from dry whites and sweet whites to tannic reds and softer, easy-drinking reds to sparkling wines produced in ancient methods that predate Champagne’s rise to prominence.
While their reputation may not precede them, the quality of these wines is certainly there, with producers paying careful attention to the vineyard (some of the yields are quite low – 35 hl/ha). And, as the land of gastronomy – foie gras, duck cassoulet and delicious cheeses – you can be sure that these folks know their food and wine, meaning that the wines are extremely food-friendly. Moreover, as already mentioned, there is a wealth of wine styles from which to choose. But, if that’s not enough, perhaps their price tags will convince you; most are under $25.00 and over-deliver on value. Consequently, despite their relative obscurity, the wines of Southwest France are worth seeking out.
Tasting Notes – Here are a just a few suggestions to get you started.
- WINE #1: Domaine la Croix des Marchands, Méthode Ancestrale Brut, 2014 Gaillac, France, $18.00
Produced in this ancient way, this sparkler is slightly off-dry with relatively low (10% abv) alcohol. Notes of apple, apple peel and flowers dominate the nose and palate, along with yeasty and nutty aromas.
- WINE #2: Domaine des Terrisses, Blanc Sec 2013, Gaillac, France, $12.00
Owned by Brigitte and Alain Cazottes, this winery is situated just north of Gaillac. The wine is a blend of 60% Le Loin de l’œil, 20% Mauzac and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. Aromas and flavors of pear and nuts are prominent. While the Sauvignon provides crispness on the palate, the wine has a more viscous/fuller body more akin to a New Zealand Pinot Gris. There is also a slight oxidative note to this wine.
- WINE #3: L’Enclos des Braves, L’Enclos Rouge 2012, Gaillac, France, $20.00
A blend of 80% Braucol and 20% Prunelard, this wine spent 10 months in barrique. The nose was redolent of spice and wood, giving way to pomegranate, cherry and citrus on the palate. The vibrant acidity balances nicely with the fined-grained, medium tannins, culminating with long length.
- WINE #4: Domaine Plageoles, Duras, 2012, Gaillac, France, $23.00
Produced from Certified Organic vineyards, this wine is made exclusively from the Duras grape. Aromas of cranberry, plums, berries, earth and minerality greet the nose persist on the palate. The tannins are smooth and ripe, with just a noticeable amount of grip on the medium to full-bodied palate. Long length.