Ancient vines are an undeniable link between place and grape, and they serve as the bedrock of wines from Southwest France. Many of these grew wild; others found places where they would thrive after Roman soldiers or medieval troubadours carried them through hills and valleys.\r\n\r\nEventually, some of these indigenous varieties traveled the world. Grapes like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Tannat are rooted in this hidden gem of a region.\r\n\r\nThe Southwest\u2019s native niches are bound by the Atlantic to the west and approach the Mediterranean in the east. They follow rivers from the Pyrenees border with Spain and the Massif Central northwest to Bordeaux and Bayonne.\r\n\r\nThis land also holds stories of grapes rarely found elsewhere, the cast of which is enormous.\r\n\r\nSome of these varieties have the makings of international fame, like aromatic white Petit Manseng and red Fer Servadou. Others are tiny productions from old vines made by obsessed producers.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSome local varieties that all but disappeared are now being revived by growers who revel in the DNA of their local grapes and vineyards. They seek to modernize tradition, not break with it. Such rediscoveries are met with great excitement.\r\n\r\nIn Gascony, near the western edge of the Southwest, the local cooperative, Plaimont, identified an ancient vineyard that was being farmed by one of its members and campaigned for it to be declared a French historic monument.\r\n\r\nThe cooperative is also behind an astounding experimental conservatory vineyard of forgotten and even completely unknown vines, called the Conservatoire Amp\u00e9lograhique.\r\n\r\nMicrovinifications, small batches that test what\u2019s possible, are made from many of the 37 varieties highlighted. Two grapes, Manseng Noir and Tardif, have even been turned into commercial wines.\r\n\r\nPlaimont is not alone. About two hours east, in Gaillac, growers Robert and Bernard Plageoles rescued red Prunelard and white Ondenc from likely extinction. In the C\u00f4tes du Marmandais, approaching the northwest boundary, star grower Elian da Ros has shown the potential of red Abouriou.\r\n\r\nThese and other growers working within the region\u2019s largely unknown vineyards have proven that they don\u2019t need international varieties or fashions to follow\u2014they have their own grape varieties and unique wine styles. Read on to learn about some of the rare and native gems they\u2019re using to create Southwest France\u2019s most distinctive bottlings.\r\n\r\n\r\nWhite Wine Varieties\r\nPetit Manseng\r\nPetit Manseng is arguably one of the finest white grapes in France. It produces the most ethereal sweet wines and, at the other end of the scale, makes rich, dense and powerful dry whites.\r\n\r\nWhen tasting a sweet Juran\u00e7on, made from 100% Petit Manseng that\u2019s grown in vineyards in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, the first thing you might notice is a range of flavors from lime to nectarine, sugar and honey.\r\n\r\nThe next thing that presents itself is acidity, which prevails no matter how sweet or rich the wine. It creates something that is mineral, complex and seriously ageworthy.\r\n\r\nSweet Juran\u00e7on is produced from small, concentrated, non-botrytized berries that can stay on the vine until December.\r\n\r\nIn Juran\u00e7on Sec, the dry version, Petit Manseng is often partnered in smaller parts with its cousin, Gros Manseng, named such because of its bigger berries. The result is wines that are ripe, rich and concentrated in notes of nuts and spice, but they retain the grape\u2019s inherent acidity. This quality, partnered with the wine\u2019s concentration, allows them to age well.\r\n\r\nWine to Try\r\nDomaine Cauhap\u00e9 2014 Noblesse du Temps (Juran\u00e7on); $82, 95 points. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nPetit Courbu\r\nAll 160 acres of Southwest France\u2019s Petit Courbu are grown in Gascony and the appellation of Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, which translates to \u201cvineyards in the country.\u201d The area is better known for being home to the Tannat vineyards of the Madiran appellation.\r\n\r\nMany of the same producers known for powerful Madiran reds also make a small amount of white wine, mainly Petit Courbu blended with Petit Manseng. They work with the variety for good reason: This is a grape that should be better known, as the wines are elegant, aromatic and rich.\r\n\r\nDry bottlings of 100% Petit Courbu, like one made by leading Madiran producer Alain Brumont, reveal ripe pear and nutmeg flavors, with intense acidity and a texture reminiscent of apple skins.\r\n\r\nSweeter versions have touches of botrytis as well as honey and dried fruits. Blends made in a dry style bring in honey and kiwi for a sweet yet crisp impression.\r\n\r\nWine to Try \r\nVignobles Brumont 2016 Ch\u00e2teau Bouscass\u00e9 Les Jardins de Bouscass\u00e9 Petit Courbu (Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh); $22, 88 points.\r\n\r\nLoin de l\u2019Oeil\r\nIn the lexicon of unusual grape names in the Southwest, this one rates fairly high. Known in the local dialect as L\u2019En de l\u2019El, Loin de l\u2019Oeil translates to \u201cfar from the eye.\u201d The variety\u2019s bunches are on long stalks far from the bud, or eye.\r\n\r\nGaillac, northeast of Toulouse, is the home of Loin de l\u2019Oeil. A hotbed of unusual grapes, a range of wine types and styles are produced there, but this is a true specialty, and shines when showcased in the area\u2019s sweet wines and dry blends.\r\n\r\nSweet versions, called Gaillac Doux, are well made and hard to resist. Loin de l\u2019Oeil loves botrytis, which reveals honeyed aspects with impressive intensity and overall balance.\r\n\r\nDry versions of the variety yield light yet delicious apple and citrus as well as spice aromas and flavors. If blended with Mauzac, its usual partner, minerality and white stone fruits come into play within a richer, more full-bodied style.\r\n\r\nWine to Try\r\nDomaine Rotier 2015 Renaissance Vendanges Tardive (Gaillac Doux); $30, 92 points.\r\n\r\nMauzac\r\nThis is the chameleon white grape of the Southwest. Whatever style it is that you seek, Mauzac can supply it. There are dry, sweet and sparkling wines, of course, but one style in particular is a Gaillac specialty: m\u00e9thode ancestrale.\r\n\r\nGaillac m\u00e9thode ancestrale sparkling wines are produced from a technique that extends at least to the 16th century.\r\n\r\nIt calls for the wine to be bottled before the first fermentation is finished. It\u2019s a low-cost and risky method, as bottles can explode, but it leads to a low-alcohol, medium-sweet sparkling wine ideal for ap\u00e9ritifs. With high acidity and crisp fruit flavors, Mauzac is perfect in these pours.\r\n\r\nApart from that delicious exception, Mauzac also shines in dry wines, both still and sparkling. It often boasts floral aromas as well as ripe pear and melon flavors, with a light touch of pepper. Sparkling wines that have some age offer mature almond flavors that soften the grape\u2019s natural acidity.\r\n\r\nWine to Try\r\nDomaine du Moulin NV M\u00e9thode Ancestrale (Gaillac); $18, 88 points.\r\n\r\nRed Wine Varieties\r\nN\u00e9grette\r\nN\u00e9grette is a grape with distinct personalities. It can be soft, supple and fruity, ready to enjoy young; it\u2019s been described as the \u201cBeaujolais of Toulouse.\u201d\r\n\r\nOn the other hand, it can also make ageworthy, rich, wood-aged wines, sometimes blended with Syrah, Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon.\r\n\r\nGo to a bar in the city of Toulouse, and it\u2019s the local fruity wine served by the glass. In a wine shop, you can encounter the more heavy-hitting pours. As you leave town, you pass the vines as the road climbs out of the Toulouse basin going northwest.\r\n\r\nLike so many of the varieties in Southwest France, N\u00e9grette is a very site-specific grape. It\u2019s planted almost exclusively in the Fronton appellation, where it appreciates the hot and relatively dry climate.\r\n\r\nN\u00e9grette produces wines that are instantly attractive, with violet aromas, black plum flavors and often a plush, generous texture. The pricier wines, aged in wood and boasting more pronounced tannins and black-fruit tones, have more intensity and structure, which allows them to mature well for five years or more.\r\n\r\nWine to Try\r\nVignobles Arbeau 2018 On l\u2019appelle N\u00e9grette (Fronton); $15, 90 points. Best Buy.\r\n\r\nAbouriou\r\nThe Southwest seems to specialize in the rescue of grape varieties from oblivion, following the theory that you never know what they could do if they are not given the chance. Abouriou is a prime example.\r\n\r\nThe grape almost disappeared in the early 1800s and was rescued later in the century. It remains pretty experimental, with less than 900 acres in production.\r\n\r\nAlmost all of those vines are in a small appellation that was also revived, thanks to an enterprising cooperative and a handful of growers who have now begun to promote Abouriou as their own unique offering.\r\n\r\nThe area, called the C\u00f4tes du Marmandais Appellation d\u2019Origine Proteg\u00e9e (AOP), is just southeast of Bordeaux and is planted mainly with Bordeaux varieties.\r\n\r\nBut Abouriou, with its distinctive dark color, light acidity and juicy black fruits pierced by an herbal character, shines in every blend where it\u2019s found, as well as in the few 100% Abouriou wines from the region.\r\n\r\nWine to Try\r\nLionel Osmin & Cie 2016 Abouriou (C\u00f4tes du Marmandais); $15, 91 points. Best Buy.\r\n\r\nDuras\r\nDuras is a grape variety whose roots may date as far back as the 15th century. It\u2019s fairly unadventurous, having almost never left the vineyards of Gaillac and Millau, northeast of Toulouse.\r\n\r\nIf you seek a deeply colored, high-alcohol and somewhat rustic wine, however, Duras is your grape. Those characteristics are also why it\u2019s rare to find it on its own. But blend it with Braucol (Fer Servadou) or Syrah, and it adds power and backbone to the final wine.\r\n\r\nDuras is often the reason why the reds of Gaillac can age so well, thanks to its penchant for providing firm structure and longevity.\r\n\r\nThe variety is direct and assertive, yet it speaks of place, with sappy tannins and black fruits warmed by the same Mediterranean breezes that are such an influence in both Gaillac and Millau. It yields classic Southwest wines, with a taste that could only come from one place. Perhaps that\u2019s why Duras never traveled.\r\n\r\nWine to Try\r\nDomaines des Terrisses 2016 L\u2019Or\u00e9e du Domaine des Terrisses (Gaillac); $22, 90 points.\r\n\r\nFer Servadou\r\nThis grape has quite an identity crisis. In Gaillac, it\u2019s known as Braucol. In Madiran, it goes by Pinenc. In Marcillac, it\u2019s Mansois. The name Fer Servadou seems reserved for when it\u2019s grown in the Garonne and Dordogne valleys. These names highlight the intense regionality of vines in the Southwest.\r\n\r\nLike so many grape varieties here, Fer Servadou is ancient, likely domesticated from wild vines. For a long time, its ancestry showed in poor clones. Recent improvement in clonal selection, however, has created an equal improvement in the resulting wines, and its popularity has grown across the entire region.\r\n\r\nToday, it\u2019s generally blended with other local varieties like Tannat in Madiran, or Duras in Gaillac, though it occasionally surfaces as a 100% varietal wine. Such bottlings exhibit black-fruit characteristics, structured tannins, spice and smoky flavors.\r\n\r\nWine to Try\r\nDomaine Laurens 2018 Cuv\u00e9e Pierre Rouges (Marcillac); $15, 88 points.