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Southwest France – like a box of chocolates - Blog from Quentin Sadler

Southwest France – like a box of chocolates

Variety is the spice of life. We have all heard that old saying and most of us know that there is some truth in it.
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.


One ‘classic’ region of France though seems to be capable of delivering enough surprises for everyone. That region is the Southwest or Sud-Ouest and with the wines from here you never know what you’re going to get.
Actually that isn’t entirely true, but there is enormous variety here. That is because it isn’t really one region at all, but a mosaic made up of lots of small wine regions or sub-zones, many very traditional and some quite famous, but all believing they have more clout and potential together than they do divided.
As you can see from my map the region covers great swathes of France:
QS South West France watermark
Map of Southwest 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!


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Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh & Madiran vineyards – photo courtesy of winesofsouthwestfrance.com.
Sweet Wine
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.
1790-vin-pacherenc-du-vic-billa-saint-albert-75cl2011 Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh Saint-Albert
Plaimont Producteurs
A late harvest wine made from a blend Gros MansengPetit 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.

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