In my first piece on the wines of South West France, I commented on the general characteristics of the wines of South West France. The inevitable question is, who cares?
We have a multitude of choices for wine from France - Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc and the Rhone. Beyond that there is a world of wine from California, Spain, Italy, Chile, Argentina, South Africa....do we really need to 'discover' a new wine region?
In my mind, the case for the wines of South West France is simple - great wines you never heard of, at "never heard of that before" prices, with charming rusticity and flavours that can be unlike anything other wine. A workout for the palate and the cerebrum, while sparing you the pain in the wallet. A generalization, perhaps, but let's discuss in more detail:
Do you like Bordeaux? Find it expensive? How about some high quality wines from the Bordeaux satellites like Bergerac, or related AOCs (i.e. Bergerac, Bergerac Sec, Côtes de Bergerac, Buzet, Monbazillac). The reds and whites use the same Bordeaux grapes, and in ancient times were labelled Bordeaux. I am quite intrigued by the sweet whites of Monbazillac, a pocket-friendly alternative to Sauternes. (I bought a nice 750mL bottle the other day for C$22 - try and do that in Sauternes/Barsac! Notes to come.)
Do you like Argentine Malbec? Argentine Malbec is all the rage these days, it seems, replacing Aussie Shiraz as the go-to cheap red. But the Malbec-based wines of Cahors take on a more rustic and food friendly air (1,2). Learn a few makers and enjoy!
Looking for a break from the Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc rut? The South West produces buckets of inexpensive whites. From bargain-priced Côtes de Gascogne quaffers to the intriguing Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and delicious Jurançon (dry and sweet wines), all made from the local petit manseng, gros manseng and petit courbu grapes.
Off the wall different? Try a Fronton made from the grape Negrette, or an 'ancient' wine from Gaillac. More on these in future tastings.
And finally, my absolute favourite reason for looking at the wines of South West France:
Looking for a big, powerful, tannic wine that ages beautifully and pairs very well with hunks of meat off the grill? Rarely found elsewhere in the world, save Uruguay, the tannat grape produces wines that are rustic and burly with haunting aromas. The best of Madiran (3,4,5,4,5) (also see Béarn, Saint-Mont, Irouléguy) develop a very complex nose, and when the tannins soften you get a burst of flavour that is, well, remarkable. I may get some flak for saying this, but I think of Nebbiolo when I think of a well made tannat - both exude a complex, gamey nose, with fat tannins and ample acidity that takes time to settle down. An awesome, mind-blowing, top Madiran will hit you with a cost in line with a better Cru Bourgeois, but there are some value priced picks as well. A compelling reason to go and buy yourself a cellar.
For the next part of this series I will taste a few of the wines, recommend some winemakers (at a range of prices, I hope), and provide some vintage, cellaring, pairing and other tips. Hope it works for you!