Thursday, September 16, 2010

Go SouthWest Young Man

I’m fascinated by lesser-known wine regions: areas that produce good, (maybe not great) wines using native grapes that are usually unknown anywhere else. The big international (OK, noble if you prefer) varieties are not for them. They stay true to their traditional varieties and make wines that match up well with local cuisine.

One of those regions is South West France, just south and east of Bordeaux. Sure, there are many Bordeaux varieties grown in the area closest to Bordeaux. But, moving east and south from Bordeaux into Béarn, Pays Basque and Gascony, it’s the home of some improving appellations using lesser-known varieties. These wines can be hard to find at Vintages, but two of them are available in the September 18 release. (Yeah, I know, neither are included in yesterday's My Picks...think of them as a bonus!)  For my friends in Québec, you’ll find these SouthWest wines more frequently at the SAQ.
  • Jurançon is within the larger Béarn region and gives its name to both a dry white and sweet white wine, both of which were once some of the most famous wines in Europe. The winemakers use the Gros Manseng grape to make the spicy and floral Jurançon Sec. We don’t see much Jurançon Sec at Vintages, but there’s one in the September 18 release, so seize the day. SAQ has a better selection.
  • Béarn is more famous for its sauce. If you can find them, their reds, made from Tannat, go well with a steak accompanied by a certain sauce. (Surprise!)
  • Irouléguy is in Basque country, close to the Spanish border. It’s a wine region brought back from the dead. They make lighter-bodied reds from Tannat and whites from Petit Courbu, Gros Manseng, and Petit Manseng. SAQ has a couple of choices.
  • In Gascony, Madiran winemakers make red wine, using the Tannat grape. As the name suggests, it’s high in tannins, even astringent, but it’s the perfect match to cut the fattiness of duck confit. It's one of the very best examples of a regional wine and food match. Madiran shows up from time to time at Vintages and there’s one available in the September 18 release. Regularly available at SAQ.
  • Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh is the same geographic area as Madiran but is the name of the white wine made here, using Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng, Arrufiac, Gros Manseng, and a foreigner, Sauvignon Blanc. But the Sauvignon Blanc cannot be more than 10 %. Rarely seen here in Vintages but SAQ does carry them.
  • Also in Gascony, Cotes de St-Mont makes mostly red wines from Tannat and Fer grapes, while they make their whites from Arrufiac and Petit Courbu. St-Mont is one of the few VDQS wines remaining in France and the 2010 vintage is the last one in which the VDQS designation may be used. Word is that the quality of St-Mont wines improves every year, so chances are that Appellation Contrôlée status is just around the corner. Vintages carried a St-Mont white in 2009, so keep your eye out for more wines from St-Mont. Seen more often at SAQ.
It’s a cooperative (Plaimont) in Cotes de St-Mont that makes most of their wines and is credited with the improved quality. Even better news is that their Conservatory rescues “lost” local grape varieties, such as Ahumat and Morenoa, and makes experimental wines from these varieties.

More diversity in wine, I’m all for it!

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. I always learn something from you. Now I am inspired to go to the SAQ and try a few of these.