Swirls: Discovering the hidden charms and values of South West France

Yesterday I moderated a panel discussion here in New York on the wines of South West France. This corner of the country, which has long lived in the shadow of Bordeaux to the north and even Langudeoc-Rousillon to the east, deserves much more attention for its unique, terroir-driven wines. The region is  large, framed by the South WestAtlantic Ocean on the west, Spain and the   Pyrenées on the south and the Massif Central mountains on the east.

Despite its relative obscurity, it happens to be where some of the most popular international varieties, including merlot and cabernet sauvignon, originated as relatives of cabernet franc, although these grapes are but minor players there today. Malbec, which has enjoyed so much success in Argentina, also originated in the South West and remains an important grape there, most notably in Cahors. Tannat, négrette and braucol among reds and colombard, gros manseng and ugni-blanc among whites are used in some of the more popular wines.

A tasting of a dozen or so wines after the discussion revealed a range of red styles, from the lighter, fruitier wines of Fronton, Gaillac and Marcillac to the bigger, more brooding wines of Madiran and Cahors. The whites were on the fruity and citrusy side, including nice examples from the Saint-Mont and Irouleguy appellations. The whites will serve splendidly as refreshing aperitif wines and will match well with fish, shellfish, sushi and other lighter fare. They are nice alternatives to sauvignon blanc and many are considerably less expensive. In fact, most wines from the South West are in the $10 to $20 range or even less. I’ll have more to say in coming weeks about specific wines from this exciting and distinctive region.

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