Many wine consumers find themselves with an affinity for French wine, and it’s no surprise why. I too, often look to France when I’m just not sure what I’m in the mood to sip. France, in the realm of viticulture, is always pretty reliable; their passion, long history of cultivation, and mastering of the concept of terroir is nearly unmatchable. However, many wine producing regions of France tend to fall in the shadows of the country’s bigger names. Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone always make the spotlight-- though what about those lesser known, intricately complex regions that are so often overlooked? This month, I wanted to take us on a deeper adventure through the world of French wine, bypassing some of the bigger names that we already know and love. To kick off the year, I’m taking us through what I like to call ‘Backwater France,’ where some of the country’s most interesting gems are waiting, eager to be discovered.
With this month’s TGT, we’re both starting and ending in the Sud-Ouest, otherwise known as South West France. This viticulturally rich region is sandwiched between the Pyrénées Mountains, Bordeaux, and the Atlantic Ocean, creating a bunch of unique microclimates. The region is heavily influenced by the Dordogne and Garonne rivers, as well as the mountain influence to the south. Although the region is well known for their distillate (Armagnac) production, the wines coming out of this part of the country are out of this world. Crisp, high-acid whites, produced from Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Sauvignon Blanc, and a slew of other white varieties are thirst-quenching and bright, while reds range in a variety of flavor profiles, from crunchy and tart, all the way to inky and bold, dominated by Malbec, Tannat, Duras, Negrette... the list goes on. Although many wine drinkers initially gravitate slightly north to Bordeaux, generally, your dollar will go a lot further in this gem-laden region.
Then, there’s Savoie, known for its snowy mountaintops, variety of crystalline lakes, and Alpine influenced wines as far as the eye can see. This cool climate area, situated to the east of Lyon and south of the Jura, is known for their high-acid whites and crunchy, refreshing reds, predominantly produced from the Jacquere (white), Altesse (white), Mondeuse (red), Gamay, and Persan (red) varieties. When preparing a rustic, comfort-food filled meal (hello, pungent cheese and charcuterie), these are the wines you want to be sipping.
Circling back to the southwestern quadrant of the country, we then find ourselves in the Languedoc, specifically at Domaine D'Aupilhac. For far too long, the Languedoc has lived in the shadows of its more popular southerly brother, Provence, losing its potential drinkers to the pink-hued porch pounders of the south east. However, this month, we’re taking back the Languedoc and giving it the attention it deserves! As a whole, the region is essentially a Francophile’s dream, loaded with history, culture, and regionally inspired food and wine for days. Expect a heavy emphasis on fresh coastal seafood to the south, contrasted by heavy, cassoulet dishes of the north. With such a diversity in climate, terrain, and food, the region’s wines are equally produced to match an array of cuisines and climates. Our red wine here is dominated by Mourvedre and Carignan, two popular varieties within the region, though the blend is a bit of a melting pot-- perfectly representative of the Languedoc as a whole.
When it comes to France, we’re always going to find ourselves sipping on the bigger names. This month, I truly hope to inspire you to dig around the viticultural regions you love a bit more, seeking out the hidden gems that undoubtedly await. Because as we all know, it’s always viticulture’s biggest secrets that we tend to fall in love with the most.
Dustin Wilson, MS
Domaine Chiroulet ‘Les Terres Blanches’ Côtes de Gascogne 2017
Domaine Chiroulet farms 45 hectares of vines, ranging in age from 10-40 years old, across the rolling, southwest facing hills of the Cotes de Gascogne, which are often referred to as the ‘Tuscany of southwest France. The family’s history dates back six generations, surviving various obstacles, including phylloxera and two world wars. Their ‘Terres Blanches’ cuvée is comprised of 50% Gros Manseng, 40% Sauvignon Blanc, and 10% Ugni Blanc, rooted in clay and limestone soils, dotted with chalky outcrops (called retzine), which bring a significant floral and mineral presence to the wine, followed by aging in tank for eight months (including lees stirring.) Aromatic and medium-bodied, the wine shows flavors of citrus, lime, and minerals, with bright acidity giving way to a clean, lingering finish.
PAIRING IDEAS: Vibrant acidity and citrusy fruit-forwardness make ‘Les Terres Blanches’ the perfect companion for fresh seafood, salad, and lemon chicken, though the wine is extremely versatile!
Domaine D'Aupilhac Montpeyroux 2015
The Fadat family has been farming the 18-hectare ‘Aupilhac’ plot in the heart of Montpeyroux for three generations, located along the Hérault River. Despite having centuries-old roots within the region, it wasn’t until current winemaker, Sylvain Fadat, established the winery as a ‘vigneron indépendant’ in 1989, that the domaine was finally official. Aupilhac benefits from fossil rich soils and high altitudes, experiencing great sun exposure and rocky terrain. Sylvain farms his vines organically, rigorously working the soils to force them to dig deeper into the subsoil. His Montpeyroux Rouge is a Mourvedre and Carignan (30% each) dominant blend, rounded out with 25% Syrah, 10% Grenache, and 5% Cinsault, hailing from 35 year old vines and aged in barrel for 20 months; notes of red fruit, woods, and spice dominate. Delicious!
PAIRING IDEAS: This juicy, fruit-forward red pairs gorgeously with grilled meats, mushroom dishes, and a variety of winter stews.
Domaine des Ardoisières Argile Rouge 2016
Located in the heart of Savoie, with an unescaping view of Mont Blanc, the vines of what is now Domaine des Ardoisières were first planted during Roman times, becoming overrun with forest brush for centuries. It wasn’t until 20 years ago that the land was restored and replanted, with Brice Omont, a Champagne native, taking over winemaking in 2005. Currently, the estate comprises 17 hectares along the Swiss border, rooted into steep, rocky hills. Cuvées are produced from two single vineyard plots, highlighting the region’s indigenous grape varieties. Brice vinifies all of his wines biodynamically, de-stemming all fruit and executing fermentations only with native yeasts. ‘Argile Rouge’ is an 80/20 blend of Gamay and Persan, showing Alpine influenced notes of crunchy red fruit, flowers, and crushed rocks; thirst-quenching and refreshing!
PAIRING IDEAS: This high-acid, super chuggable red is extremely versatile on the table, though we love it with charcuterie boards, fatty fish, or rich cheeses (think, Savoyard inspired fondue!)
Clos La Coutale Cahors 2016
Founded in 1895, Clos La Coutale is a staple in southwest France, located in the heart of Cahors, currently operated by ‘jack of all trades’ Philippe Bernede, The family’s sixty hectares are scattered across alluvial soils, terraced along the slopes surrounding the Lot River. Phillippe’s Cahors bottling is a Malbec dominant (80%) blend, rounded out with 20% Merlot, vinified traditionally. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel, while aging is done in foudre and barrel for 1-2 years prior to bottling. Inky and dark, the wine shows delicious notes of dark fruit and earth, with gritty, well-integrated tannins and a structured backbone.
PAIRING IDEAS: This powerhouse red screams for something equally rich; for a regionally inspired pairing, look no further than duck confit or cassoulet!