Monday, June 15, 2009

LeDomduVin: the various wines of the Southwest of France

Southwest of France

The Southwest of France is precious to my heart because it is a beautiful region with rich food and wine culture, complicated history, interesting geography, and many landscapes from the long wild beaches of the Atlantic ocean shores and the dense pine tree forest of the Landes to the high rocky picks of the Pyrénées Mountains range and the deep black truffle forest of the Périgord.

Often confused with Bordeaux wines, Southwest of France wines don't say much to consumers. Coming from smaller appellations, often unknown and neglected, these wines represents (in my opinion) very good values and often reveals interesting characteristics due to certain indigenous grape varieties.

Southwest of France vineyard area starts roughly from the eastern and southern edges of Bordeaux and forms a triangle shaped area (pointing toward the east) between the town of Bergerac (East of Bordeaux), southwest of Pau (in the Béarn and Basque Country, the southwestern corner of France) and Marcillac and Gaillac (at the eastern point).

This large area encompasses many little appellations and sub-appellations, producing whites (dry, semi-dry, moelleux and sweet), reds and rosés, and even one of France's most famous digestif "Armagnac", from grape varieties that you probably never really heard of.

To simplify it for you, here is a list of the main vineyards, from north to south and from west to east, and the type of wine(s) they produce:

  • Bergerac White: dry, refreshing whites made primarily with Sémillon and Sauvignon with a touch of Muscadelle, and also in very small quantity Ondenc and Chenin Blanc). Also produced Côtes de Bergerac dry white.
  • Bergerac Red: aromatic, soft and earthy reds and rosés primarily made Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc with a touch of Côt (worldly known as Malbec), and also in small quantity Fer and Mérille (two indigenous grapes of the southwest mainly found in Madiran, Gaillac and some Aveyron wines). Also produced Côtes de Bergerac Red.
  • Montravel (dry whites made mainly with Sauvignon and Sémillon), Haut Montravel (usually semi-sweet to sweet whites with the same previous grapes), Côtes de Montravel (sweet whites, same grapes), Montravel red (red wines made from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Côt).
  • Saussignac (semi-sweet to sweet white wines made mainly with Sauvignon and Sémillon)
  • Pécharmant (dry, earthy, age worthy red wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Côt)
  • Monbazillac (sweet white wines that can match some Sauternes and Jurançon wines, also made with Sauvignon, Sémillon and Muscadelle)
  • Rosette (a fairly unknown supple, round sweet white wines, also made with Sauvignon, Sémillon and Muscadelle)
  • Duras and Côtes de Duras (produce dry, earthy reds with small age potential, and also some white -dry and sweet- and rosé, made with the same above grape varieties and in small quantity some Fer, Negrette, Syrah and Gamay)
  • Côtes du Marmandais (mainly reds and some whites often made with the same Bordeaux grapes as above with in small quantity some Fer, Syrah, Gamay and Abouriou for the reds and Ugni Blanc for the whites.
  • Cahors (earthy, robust, fruit forward and age worthy red wines made generally with a minimum of 70% de Malbec, known as Côt, Côt Noir or even Auxerrois in the area, usually blended with a bit of Merlot and Tannat)
  • Marcillac (east of Cahors, a fairly unknown small appellation producing mainly light, juicy, earthy, slightly tannic and peppery red and simple rosé wines produced predominantely with Fer Servadou, known in the area as Mansois or Braucol, blended with small quantity of other grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Merlot, Jurançon Noir, or even the nearly extinct Mouyssaguès).
  • Buzet (often confused for a Bordeaux, Buzet produces mainly red (85%), white and rosé wines.The reds are earthy, concentrated and age worthy with a distinct and individual character are made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds, and Sauvignon, Semillon and Muscadelle for the whites).
  • Fronton or Côte du Frontonnais (red wines produced mainly with Negrette, a rare red grape variety with a unique, earthy, dark, attitude producing robust, tannic red wines precious to the people of Toulouse)
  • Gaillac (east of Fronton and North east of Toulouse, Gaillac reds are also very appreciated by the people of Toulouse and are crafted with local grapes like Fer, Duras and Braucol blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the reds and Ondenc, Len de l'el and Mauzac for the whites).
  • Béarn (west of Madiran and Jurançon, Béarn produces big red with at least 60% Tannat blended with local grapes like Manseng Noir, Courbu Noir, Pinenc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, and fresh, aromatic whites made with Gros Manseng (white), Petit Manseng (white), Sauvignon Blanc and a small amount of other local grapes like Courbu, Lauzet, Camaralet and Raffiat).
  • Madiran and Pacherenc du Vic Bhil (Madiran (red) and Pacherenc du Vic Bilh (white) are crafted in the same area, from vineyards planted on south facing terrasses (slopes) looking out towards the Pyrenees. Madirans' wines, very much influenced by the Tannat grape, are often slightly green, a bit bitter and tannic in youth, but after a minimum of five or six years aging become rounder, warm and full bodied).
  • Irouléguy (or Irulegi in Basque) (a small forgotten appellation to discover or rediscover, producing excellent, earthy, slightly esoteric, robust red wines and some rosés made with with Tannat (Bordelesa Beltza), Cabernet Franc (Axeria) and Cabernet Sauvignon (Axeria Handia) and some refreshing whites made with Courbu (Xuri Zerratia), Petit Manseng (Izkiriota Ttipia) and Gros Manseng (Izkiriota)).
  • Jurançon (an appellation south of Pau, producing fresh, mineral, zesty dry whites and full flavored, balanced and complex, sought after sweet white wine from the piedmont of the Pyrénées mountains, crafted with Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Courbu).
  • Armagnac (one of the two most recognized French brandy produced in the heart of Gascogny, the middle of the southwest of France region, it is the result of a "column stills process" distillation of young white wine usually made from a blend of grapes including Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Baco (22A)).
Beside all these main Appellations, the southwest of France also offers plenty of sub-Appellations and Vin de Pays (like Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne) in white, red and Rosé.

Be adventurous and curious, and explore a bit more these interesting wine region and their wines. Continue to visit my blog at to check my notes on the different wines from the southwest of France that I tasted.


Also check the following websites for more info and maps: and

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