Southwest France – like a box of chocolates - Blog from Quentin Sadler
Certainly I like variety in wine. I am never more excited by a wine than when I am tasting it for the first time, or experiencing a grape variety or region that is new to me.
As you can see from my map the region covers great swathes of France:
Dordogne and Bergerac – wines here are very Bordeaux-like and include Bergerac, Côtes de Duras and Monbazillac.
The Garonne – wines here are more varied in style and include Buzet, Côtes du Marmandais, Cahors and Gaillac.
Gascony – for me this is very much the heart of the Southwest and wines include Madiran, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh and Saint-Mont, as well as the excellent Côte de Gascogne IGP / Vin de Pays wines from the Armagnac region.
The Basque Country and Béarn – nestling in the Pyrenees these sub-zones produce Jurançon, Béarn and Irouléguy.
I find myself very drawn to the wines from this part of the world, because of the variety, that feel of the unexpected and the fact that they are honest country wines made by farmers in remote sounding backwaters. These are wines that with some exceptions are slightly out of the mainstream, beloved by the locals and the people who make them, but a difficult thing to sell on more international markets. All of which makes them fascinating and worth trying when you get the chance – oh and lest I forget, on this showing they taste really good too!
This part of France is home to many excellent dessert wines, of course Sauternes and Barsac are not far away, while Monbazillac and Saussignac produce very similar wines from the same grape varieties in nearby Bergerac.
The speciality regions for sweet wines in the Sud-Ouest proper though are Jurançon, which uses the wonderful Petit-Manseng to great effect, and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh. This PDO / AOC covers the same territory as Madiran, but is only for white wines made from Arrufiac, Courbu, Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Petit Manseng. Wines labelled Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Sec are dry.
2011 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Saint-Albert
A late harvest wine made from a blend Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu left to ripen on the vine until 15 November – Saint Albert’s day. It really is delicious as it seems very fresh and lively with the sweetness keeping in the background, there are some orange marmalade notes, apricot and something more exotic about it too and the acidity keeps the luscious sweetness from dominating your palate. A lovely, beautifully balanced dessert wine, not massively complex, but very attractive – 90/100 points.
I know this selection is small, but I have tried many other wines from this varied region, and my conclusion would be that these are wines well worth trying. There are lovely wines here, interesting styles, interesting grape varieties and a whole range of wines that feel classic, but with a twist.
If you want to drink classic European wines – dry, elegant and restrained, then do try more of the wines of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, but for sheer variety, difference and value for money you can add Southwest France to that list too.