The Grapes of the French Sud-Ouest

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Southwest France is one of the most underrated wine regions in the country. Still, the region’s wine has never seen a better quality, and they have a rich history and tradition. There’s no doubt the sudoest’s popularity will continue to increase, as wine lovers worldwide look for new, exciting terroir, lesser-known varietals and small, family-owned producers.

Both inexperienced wine lovers and seasoned connoisseurs find endless pleasure in the Sudoest wines. The region offers a much-need diversity to the otherwise same-old grapes grown worldwide. Wine enthusiasts today look for more than Chardonnay and Cabernet; they’re looking to entice their palates with rare, local varietals and unique expressions of the land — that’s what Southwest France brings to the table. 

This guide focuses on the wines of the Sudoest from a grape variety perspective. This approach is excellent to those new to the complex French wine system but also handy for experienced tasters who want to understand the Sudoest through its wine styles.   Southwest France comprises several appellations, each unique in terroir and grape varieties. However, the area can be subdivided into four sub-regions that make dissecting its wine styles and grapes easier. The Sudoest is divided into Bergerac & Dordogne, Garonne & Tarn, the Lot River and the Pyrénées. Let’s focus on each region and learn more about the grape varieties that call them home. 

Bergerac & Dordogne 

This Sudoest subregion is the closest to Bordeaux, and the Atlantic influence can be felt. It is no surprise that grape growers and winemakers in the area specialise in grapes and wine styles not dissimilar to those found in neighbouring Bordeaux.  Dry red wines, dry white wines and sweet whites are prevalent, and they often represent a good-value alternative to wines from Bordeaux, Entre-Deux-Mers, and Sauternes. 

Appellations in the area:

Bergerac, Montravel, Pécharment, Saussignac, Monbazillac and Rosette.

White Grape Varieties: 

Sauvignon Blanc
Semillon
Muscadelle
Ugni Blanc
Chenin Blanc
Ondenc

Red Grape Varieties: 

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc
Merlot
Côt (Malbec)
Mérille

Garonne & Tarn

The Garonne and its tributary, the Tarn River, give life to several wine regions between Toulouse and Cahors. This region lies right between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Several local varieties are championed in the area, and you can expect fewer Bordeaux grapes. 

Several appellations in the area specialise in unique wine styles and grapes. Fronton champions red and rosé made with Négrette, while Brulhoise and Côtes du Marmandaise focus on Bordelaise varietals.

Appellations in the area:  Fronton, Gaillac, Brulhois, Buzet and Côtes du Marmandais.

White Grape Varieties: 

Len de L’el ​
Mauzac Blanc ​
Mauzac Rose
Saint Côme

Red Grape Varieties:

Fer Servadou
​Duras ​
Gamay
Négrette
Syrah
Tannat 
​Abouriou
Prunelard
Cinsault ​
Jurançon Noir
Mouyssagués ​
Pinot Noir

Lot River

The lot river runs east to west to join the Garonne, and it influences several appellations, all with unique grape varietals with centuries of history. The black wine of Cahors was once more prized than the wines from Bordeaux, and the wines of Marcillac are gaining distinction for their rare and tannic grape Fer Servadou.

Appellations in the area:

Marcillac, Cahors and Coteaux de Quercy, Côtes du Lot IGP.

Red Grape Varieties:

Malbec (Côt)
Merlot
Tannat
Fer Servadou
Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon
Prunelard 

Pyrénées

Further south, along the Pyrénées foothills, unusual wine grapes, including Manseng, produce superb mountain wines with a rustic charm. Madiran is perhaps the most famous appellation in the area, and it’s known for growing one of the most tannic grapes on earth, Tannat. Tannat is even more tannic than Cabernet, and it takes years to soften in the bottle.

Appellations in the area:  Irouléguy, Béarn, Tursan, Madiran and Sain Mont.

White Grape Varieties: 
Camaralet 
Gros Manseng  ​
Petit Manseng ​
Lauzet
Arrufiac 
​Raffiat 
Courbu ​
Clairette Blanche ​​
Baroque

Red Grape Varieties:
Manseng Noir ​​
Tannat
​Courbu Noir
Fer Servadou

Southeast Grapes to Try from Hourlier Wines

Cahors: Georges Vigouroux Historialis Malbec

Georges Vigouroux is a leading producer in Cahors with decades of vinous history in the area. This inky, red wine has raspberry and blackberry scents and soft but noticeable tannins on the palate. This refined Cahors goes excellent with grilled meat and hearty stews. This wine can also age, making it perfect for medium- to long-term storage. 

Gaillac: Domaine Barreau Augustin White

Domaine Barreau owns 34 hectares of vines a few kilometres from Gaillac. The estate specialises in red, white and rosé wines. This white example brings forward green apple and pear aromas with lemon zest in the back palate. This extraordinary white Gaillac shines when served with fish, seafood and poached or grilled chicken.

Marcillac: Domaine Laurens Cuvée Pierres Rouges

Domaine Laurens was established in 1975, and it’s a leading producer of red wine in Marcillac. Here Fer Servadou becomes structured wines with aromatic complexity. Red fruits, blackcurrants and spices give this wine a vibrant personality, especially over its smooth palate with powdery tannins. Try with game, lamb and fatty beef cuts. 

The French Southeast Has It All

There’s no doubt the Sudoest is a complex wine region. Still, enjoying its wines is easy — every grape in the area has a story, and every bottle of wine is a great ambassador for the category; the quality is better than ever!

In a wine world dominated by just a handful of grapes, all vinified in the same way; diversity is more than encouraged; the wine from the Sudoest is an excellent starting point. The area is dotted with unique grapes that produce extraordinary wines with a unique personality.

Native varietals are gaining recognition worldwide, and obscure appellations are climbing the ranks. Wine lovers are finding a place in their hearts and cellars for these unique expressions of the French terroir, and that’s exciting! What’s your favourite Sudoest grape?

 

 

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