The wines of Southwest France offer a combination of variety and value that is hard to find anywhere else. From fruity to powerful reds, crisp to rich whites, awesome sweeties, fortified selections and bubblies, it’s a region that offers virtually every wine style imaginable.
The nearly 100 wines in this month’s Buying Guide show that variety. Some appellations are widely represented: the Malbec-based red wines of Cahors and the light, fruity whites of Côtes de Gascogne, for example.
The reviewed wines also help to illustrate that the southwest is hardly a unified region, but rather a series of islands of vines isolated among fields of maize, forests, rolling hills and small towns. While other parts of the wine world have become more international, growing grape varieties that are widely planted around the globe, the southwest has remained as ruggedly individual as its beret-wearing locals.
The southwest offers a wealth of wine experiences that are new to many, yet rooted in tradition and history.
It is the birthplace of such great grapes as Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Tannat. It is also the home of grapes that have never traveled and which produce marvelous wines on their home turf, like Petit Manseng, Négrette, Loin de l’Oeil and Pinenc.
There is more to come. In the Saint-Mont appellation, a small vineyard of ancient vines, many not even properly identified, has been declared a French national monument. The largest private nursery of ancient vines in France is owned by the Plaimont cooperative, which is propagating the most promising varieties. Look out for Manseng Noir and Tardive as future star grapes.
I’m delighted that we are shining a light on these wines as they become more widely available. Any true wine lover appreciates the discovery of new flavors, varieties and regions, and the southwest offers a wealth of wine experiences that are new to many, yet rooted in tradition and history. This ancient region is the latest New World of wine.
Château Jolys 2013 Cuvée Jean (Jurançon); $29, 93 points. Apricot and mango aromas give this wine an immediate opulence. It is ripe and honeyed although with the enormous, age-worthy acidity and flavors of pineapple and passion fruit. The wine is still so young and should not be drunk before 2019. Cellar Selection.
Famille Laplace 2014 Château d’Aydie (Pacherenc du Vic Bilh); $24, 93 points. The balance between ripe sweetness and acidity that comes from Petit Manseng shows so well here. There are ripe pineapple and white-peach flavors that are filled out with honey and a dry edge. The wine is delicious now, although it will age and will be better from 2018.
Château de Gaudou 2015 Le Sang de la Vigne Signé Benjamin Cooker Malbec (Cahors); $21, 92 points.From a small parcel of vines in the Gaudou vineyard, this impressive wine is rich and still very young. Matured in egg-shaped tanks, it is dense with fruit as much as tannin, producing a spicy wine full of black fruits and a dry core that is already well integrated. Drink from 2019. Cellar Selection.
Famille Laplace 2014 Madiran Laplace Tannat-Cabernet Franc (Madiran); $16, 91 points. This is a ripe open interpretation of Tannat, given a soft perfumed character by the 25% Cabernet Franc in the blend. It does have tannins which are well integrated into the rich black fruits. The acidity at the end and the dry edge promise further aging. Drink from 2019. Editors’ Choice.
Château Jolys 2014 Cuvée Pauline (Jurançon Sec); $25, 90 points. While Petit Manseng is more often made into a sweet wine, its natural richness does lend itself to dry wine as well. Here it gives an intensely perfumed wine, floral and spicy together. Crisp apples and kiwis are made richer with a tincture of honey. Drink this wine from 2018.
Domaine Rotier 2014 Les Gravels Red (Gaillac); $17, 90 points. This crisp blend of Braucol and Syrah comes from a gravel terrace. While it has fine acidity, the wine also has ripe red fruits, sweet plum flavors and an attractive sprinkling of spice. Drink this wine from 2017. Editors’ Choice.
Château Laurou 2013 Les Complices Red (Fronton); $18, 89 points. Half-and-half Négrette and Syrah, this is typical blend for Fronton with its hints of the Mediterranean mixed in with a more Atlantic influence. The wine is soft and balanced with dusty tannins, red fruits and a perfumed aftertaste. Drink now.
Château Tour des Gendres 2015 Cuvée des Conti White (Bergerac Sec); $17, 88 points. Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, with a touch of perfume from Muscadelle give a wine that, while still young, is ripe and shows a touch of spice from wood aging. It is a rounded wine that has pepper as well as just enough acidity. Drink from 2017.
Domaine de Ménard 2014 Prestige White (Côtes de Gascogne); $16, 88 points. This is a sweet ripe wine, a blend of Gros and Petit Manseng. It has lychee and peach flavors and a layer of acidity, all given richness by the botrytis and honey flavors. The wine is ready to drink, soft and with a touch of ginger spice at the end.
Château du Cèdre 2015 Marcel Malbec; $11, 87 points. There is no hint of wood in this fruity, lightly tannic wine. It has black-currant fruit, just a touch of dryness and juicy acidity. It’s a simple, delicious wine that is ready to drink now. Best Buy.