A Review of Interesting Wines and Varietals from Southwest France
By John Dunham
Our advicesisters.com readers who like to read our wine articles know that we’re fans of walk around tastings. Many different wines are usually offered in a crowded space and it’s often difficult to figure out what story is best to cover.
While walk-around tasting can be crowded and you’re standing in front of rows of tables, they’re very useful because they give you a chance to learn about offerings, varietals and pairings, that one cannot generally find either in the general wine press or by speaking with a restaurant sommelier.
Fortunately for me as the Advvicesisters.com’s wine columnist, the good people at Sopexa and the Wines of Southwest France recently held a sit down tasting for members of the press at their offices in New York. Rather than having to shuffle around with a pad in my hand, standing in front of table after table, I was able to sit and taste about a dozen wines from this unique region, all selected and explained by Master Sommelier Fred Dex.
Where Are The Wines Of Southwestern France?
The southwestern wine region of France is an extensive area stretching south along the Garonne River from Bordeaux to the Pyrenees mountain range, and east from the Atlantic coast inland well past the city of Toulouse. It encompasses 9 major wine producing regions and is home to well over a dozen major varietals of grapes. From inexpensive to ultra-iconic, from red to white and everything in between, the southwestern region of France produces a wine for everyone.
The tasting featured 12 wines that were selected from an earlier competition as good wines to pair with pommes frites (or French fries) and by Mr. Dex. Fred Dex (http://freddexms.com/) is one of only 210 Master Sommeliers in the world and has a 20-year history in the food and wine business. Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, Fred is the exclusive United States Educator for Wines of Southwest France and was a great tour guide, pointing out the unique characteristics of wines and varietals that are sometimes overlooked on wine lists.
Located in Raleigh, North Carolina, Fred is the exclusive United States Educator for Wines of Southwest France and was a great tour guide, pointing out the unique characteristics of wines and varietals that are sometimes overlooked on wine lists.
Southwestern France Has Unique Varietals:
What makes the Wines of Southwestern France unique is the patchwork of small appellations, or regions, each with their own unique history, winemaking tradition and varietals. The very popular Malbec and Cabernet Franc grapes originated in this region, and many winemakers are doing very different things with these varietals. We tasted a total of 3 dry white wines, two rose bottlings, and a range of 7 reds ranging from fruity to full bodied. And this represented a small sample of what is available from the region.
Starting with a value-priced white, we tried Domaine Guillaman 2015 Les Pierres Blanches ($13.00) from the Cotes de Gascogne. This is a wine that Fred suggested as a substitute for a Sauvignon Blanc when looking for a mineral rich wine to pair with seafood or summer dishes. The wine pairs Colombard and Ugni Blanc and has a clear straw yellow color with a nose of peach and fruity florals. On the palate, the wine was dry but fruity, with good minerality up front, finishing with some tropical pineapple. This wine would be a good companion with lighter foods, clams, fish, summer salads. At just $13.00 a bottle and with easy drinking characteristics, it is also a unique gift for a rooftop summer party.
Another interesting white we sampled was 2014 Cuvee des Conti from Chateau Tour des Gendres (416) from the Bergerac Sec region which is located to the north just alongside the east bank of the Bordeaux appellation. The wine is a typical Graves blend mostly Semillon with Sauvignon and Muscadelle. Cuvee des Conti is light yellow gold in color with a nose featuring strong mineral notes but also complex florals and a citrus undertone. On the palate, the wine had strong minerality, floral notes and some citrus mirroring the nose. It will pair well with salads, light fish like scallops, and other light summer foods.
Chateau Bouscasse, 2011 Les Jardins De Bouscasse ($15.00) was totally off the map, not only because it comes from the Madiran appellation which is near the Pyrenees but because of the wine itself. A blend of Petit Courbu and Petit Manseng, this golden yellow wine with a vanilla and honey nose starts with vanilla on the palate but moves quickly to spice – almost like spiced baked pears. It’s a fun wine made from varietals that are not particularly popular here in the United States, making it a unique gift for wine lovers. At just $15.00 it is an inexpensive alternative to new world Chardonnay wines often served at parties.
Two Unique Rose Wines:
Our tasting featured two unique rose wines. Since the region borders Provence, one might expect to find Grenache based rose wines; however, the broad shoulders of Southwestern France come to bear here. Chateau Lagrezette in the Cotes du Lot region came up with Le Rose de Julie (2015: $25.00) a 100% Malbec-based rose. Cartier owns this winery, and the style of the parent shows up in the wine, which by the way is named after the winemakers’ daughter. A beautiful pale salmon color in color, the wine is super floral on the nose with a hint of raisin. The wine is a very dry rose, crisp and clean with good minerality and floral notes. This is not your standard
This is not your standard Malbec, and is a fantastic expression of what this grape can do. It is elegant and makes an elegant gift, and can be paired with virtually anything outside of heavy meats.
The other Rose we tried was from the Fronton region. Chateau Bellevue la Foret 2015 L’Allegresse Rose ($14.00) is produced from the Negrette grape, the main varietal in Fronton. It is a very dark salmon color, with a nose similar to a Provence wine, strawberry, and salt. On the palate, the grapes deliver light strawberry with some licorice and herbal characteristics, making this a complex rose indeed. This is both a food wine and an after-dinner treat. Pair it with barbecue, burgers, chicken or salmon. Drink it around your fire pit — a lovely Summer dinner party wine.
On the palate, the grapes deliver light strawberry with some licorice and herbal characteristics, making this a complex rose indeed. This is both a food wine and an after-dinner treat, something to have with dessert around the fire pit or to pair with barbecue, burgers, chicken or salmon. Truly a summer dinner party wine.
A Broad Ranges of Reds:
The broad range of red wines coming out of Southwest France was stunning. From 100 percent Malbec bottlings, to Cabernet Franc varietals to strong tannic wines based on the Tannat grape, there is truly something for every occasion and pairing. While I sampled 7 of these, I wanted to focus on more unique bottlings and varietals that might make interesting additions to a solid collection.
Value-priced is Domaine Du Moulin 2013 from the Gaillac region at just $12.00 per bottle. This wine is 50 percent Syrah and 50 percent Duras, one of the grapes native to the Gaillac region. The wine was dark red in color with a spicy nose featuring some raisin notes.
On the palate, this can best be described as liquid black pepper. Light tannins surround a mature ready to drink wine with dark berry fruits and lots of spicy black pepper. This is a fun wine, and something that will go well with heavier foods than its structure might suggest. Though it will likely not take a lot of age, the price and the style make it a great wine to have with barbecue but also with some of the heartier dishes for Fall such as stews and roast beef.
From Pepper To Fruit:
Jean-Luc Baldes 2007 Clos Triguedina Probus ($55) is about as good a Malbec as we have seen. Malbec is native to Southwestern France and is the emblematic varietal of the Cahors appellation. This 100 percent Malbec wine is classic purple in color, with a very light nose. The wine has aged well with a solid tannic structure still in place. Blackberry, plum and cherry permeate the palate of this well constructed and well layered wine. It is built like a tank and will continue to age well, but is easily drinkable now with heavier dishes as well as some lighter though gamey meats like pork or turkey.
Tannat: The King of Structure:
We cannot discuss Southwestern France without mentioning Tannat, the king of structure. This grape which is dominant in the Madiran AOC, is a highly tannic grape which is actually blended with “lighter” grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon to make it more approachable. Alain Brumont 2010 Château Bouscassé ($25.00) from the Madiran region is just this sort of wine.
With 60% Tannat, along with about 20 percent each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this wine is darn near “medicinal” right now. Dark red in color with some coppery hues, the nose of the wine is green peppery (from the Cab Franc) with lots of black fruits. The wine attacks the palate with huge tannins but a lot of fruity sweetness. Sweet plum up front and lots of spice and vanilla in the back, the wine literally grabs your lungs.
That said, this is a wine that is made to age. It is a reallywell-madee wine, but the dense structure that is just beginning to smooth out. This is a wine that I would keep in the cellar well into the next decade, not even considering to open it until after 2020. By then the tannins will begin to mellow and not overwhelm the fruit.
The Wines of Southwest France Have A Lot To Offer Now and Into The Future:
From light, inexpensive and drinkable right now wines to more substantial and age-worthy wines, the wines of Southwest France have a lot to offer.
For more information on this broad array of wines visit http://southwestfrancewines.com/
For more on Fred Dex, our invaluable tour guide visit http://freddexms.com/