Talking about Fronton is talking about Toulouse and its surroundings, in Occitanie — right in the middle between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic in Southwest France. The Garonne River runs through the area to join its twin river, the Dordogne, to become the Gironde Estuary in Bordeaux, leading to the Atlantic Ocean.
Toulouse was founded by the Ancient Romans and was an essential economic and political centre during the Middle Ages. Today, Toulouse is the capital of the Occitanie region, and its wines come from Fronton AOC.
Fronton’s vineyards, 35 km north of Toulouse, were also planted by the Romans in the hills overlooking the Valley of Tarn. Winemakers in the area have deep viticultural roots and honour its native grapes, especially Négrette. This makes the appellation attractive to wine lovers and experts alike, as it provides much-needed variety in an otherwise homogeneous wine market.
The first vines around the old town of Fronton were planted in Gallo-Roman times a few thousand years ago. In 1122 feudal lords ceded most of the vineyards to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, establishing the foundation of the modern wine region. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the region focused entirely on wine, which led to the creation of the Fronton AOC appellation in 1975.
Nearly 40 grape growers in Fronton supply grapes to the local winemaking cooperatives and over 60 wineries produce and bottle their own wine. Together, they produce around 65,000 hectolitres of wine every year from 2,400 hectares of vines spread over 20 municipalities in Haute-Garonne and Tart-et-Garonne. By law, at least 50% of the vineyards must be planted with the local superstar Négrette.
Fronton AOC specialises in red wine (65%), with smaller amounts of rosé (35%) produced every year. The region’s poor, gravely soils and hilly topography with altitudes of up to 200m give the vineyards an excellent exposure (2000 hours of sunshine per year) to ripen red grapes. Grape growers favour the local Négrette, which must comprise at least 40% of any blend, but there are a few others.
Only 15% of the region’s wine production reaches international markets, making it a coveted commodity; the rest is consumed locally and in major French markets. Fronton AOC growers and producers are quality oriented, working with low yields of 50hl/ha for reds and 55hl/ha for rosés, so the wine’s quality is overall high.
Grape Varieties and Blends
The most important grape variety in Fronton is Négrette. Legend has it that the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem brought the varietal from Cyprus. Even today, Fronton is the only significant source of the dark grape.
Négrette gets its name from its black colour. Indeed, wines made with the variety are inky and concentrated. Still, Négrette is difficult to grow; it is susceptible to fungal diseases. When allowed to ripen, it produces elegant, structured wines with black fruit and floral aromatics.
By law, all wines in Fronton must comprise at least 40% Négrette, although some of the most successful wines are made solely with the grape.
Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, Cot (Malbec), Fer, Gamay, Mérille and Syrah are allowed in the region and can be blended with Négrette with exciting results. The proximity to Bordeaux has influenced the varietals planted in the area, for sure, but both producers and consumers still prefer local varieties. There’s no doubt the “wines of Toulouse” are worth exploring.
Négrette lends its vibrant personality to every wine made in Fronton. The noble varietal and local celebrity has aromatic intensity and structure and produces wines best enjoyed young when the fruit scents are fresher.
Red Fronton is always made with a majority of Négrette, but the local varietal has an affinity for Syrah and Cabernet, which give the wine age-worthiness and structure. Blackcurrant and blackberry aromas are not uncommon in Fronton reds, and floral scents reminiscent of peonies and violets are a signature trait.
Liquorice, leather and pepper are common descriptors in Fronton wines as well. Rich and concentrated, complex and utterly satisfying, these are amongst the best red wines in Sudoest France.
Fronton rosé is aromatic, refreshing and easy-going. Fruit shines in this more approachable wine style, and Négrette gives these pink wines a deep colour, making them instantly recognisable. Aromatic complexity and refreshing acidity are the most common descriptors for Fronton rosé.
White wines also exist in the area, but the Fronton appellation does not cover them. Instead, they’re labelled under a regional PGI. Mauzac, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay ripen fully in Fronton’s sunny terroir.
Mono-varietal red Fronton is best enjoyed in its first two years. Traditional blends can age for up to 4 years, and rosés are best kept for up to a year and a half. Also, labelling terms like “Haute Expression” and “Prestige” often mean the wine spent time in oak casks, making them more age-worthy and complex.
Where does Fronton wine originate?
Fronton vineyards are found a few kilometres north of Toulouse and neighbours Gaillac, in the Haute-Garonne and Tart-et-Garonne municipalities. Fronton has roots going back to the Ancient Romans, and monks worked the vineyards during the Middle Ages.
What does Fronton wine taste like?
Fronton red wines offer black fruit aromas with floral scents over a structured but round palate. These are generous, fruit-forward wines. Fronton rosé is equally fruity with refreshing acidity.
Which food pairs well with Fronton wine?
Red Fronton is best enjoyed with fatty white meat, red meat, hearty stews, sausages, dry-cured meat, semi-hard cheese, casseroles and pasta. Fronton rosé is delightful on its own; it’s an ideal apéritif and pairs well with seafood, Mediterranean food, vegetarian dishes, fresh cheese and canapés.