A Wine for Every Palate – The Appellations and Varietals of Wines of Southwest France
Stretching 300 miles west from the foothills of the Massif Central extinct volcano range, past Toulouse (the 4th biggest city in France), south to the skier-friendly Pyrénées Mountains and west to the Atlantic Ocean, this is the exceptional Southwest wine country.
With 42 appellations to choose from, a great range of soils and microclimates and a shared passion for making great wine, here is a tasting bonanza.
So where to begin? Start with a brief look at the appellations.
- Everyone’s favorite white wines include Côtes de Gascogne, Bergerac Sec, Gaillac, Irouléguy, Saint-Mont and Tursan
- Aromatic rosés that know no season include Fronton and Côtes du Lot (Cahors’ rosé)
- Fruity reds that literally pair with everything include Gaillac, Côtes du Marmandais, Fronton and Marcillac
- Full-bodied reds for a more dramatic impression include Madiran, Saint Mont, Cahors, Pécharmant, Côtes de Duras and Coteaux du Quercy
- To begin or end on a sweet note, include Monbazillac, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Jurançon, and Côtes de Gascogne
Next, the grapes.
Surprisingly, native red grapes include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Tannat.
The other red grapes range from names you may have heard of those that will be an ampelographic adventure in your own glass. They include Négrette, Duras, Pinenc, and Braucol. Some are so rare they are only in a few vineyards, including Prunelard in Gaillac.
After 30 years of work that continues today, some have just been rediscovered. Manseng Noir was found in an old pre-phylloxera vineyard and nurtured in an experimental vineyard in Saint-Mont. This red wine is just now coming to America.
In the whites, the Petit Manseng (sweet, dry) and Gros Manseng (semi-sweet, dry) are delicious natives of Jurançon and appear in Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Saint-Mont and Côtes de Gascogne. Arrufiac and Petit Courbu are in Saint-Mont and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. Loin de l’Oeil, Ondenc and Mauzac are in Gaillac wines.
In all, more than 130 grape varieties, including non-native Colombard, Ugni-Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, grow in 111,000 acres. So there is plenty to try. It is the birthplace of the world’s only temperate oceanic grape region.
Wines here have come from this land for millennia. It won’t take you that long to taste them all, but it is best to get started.