Southern France Undiscovered Gems for The
Adventuresome Wine Drinker
The Southwest, Languedoc, etc.
There is an amazing number of extraordinary wines
coming from the relatively undiscovered appellations along the Southern tier of France.
The Midi, for example, has awoken from a long, sleepy period of cranking out massive
quantities of wine of a quality which wasn't worthy of, as some European friends would
say, "isn't good enough for even washing your feet."
I can recall tasting wines of the Minervois and Fitou appellations in the late 1970s and
thinking what horrid wines these were! "How could anybody drink this
crap?" I wondered.
The French government began encouraging growers to produce less fruit! They had such
a wine lake at that time. The predominant varieties were grapes which produced
prolific quantities of "vin ordinaire." Combine ordinary grapes with poor
winemaking and you have a lot of distilling material. Unfortunately, Peugeots and
Citroens run on gasoline! Some of the wines were not much different, sadly.
Growers began to replant high-yielding vines with finer varieties. These premium
grapes, coincidentally, tend to produce smaller crops. Improved winemaking
techniques have revitalized what may be some of Europe's oldest vineyard territory.
Value-conscious consumers should also be paying attention to the wines of this sunny and
warm region. It can, fairly consistently, produce the sort of wines those of us who
appreciate good quality can afford. California's Central Valley growers might take
note of this region, because the quality of wine from the southern part of France can be
so far superior to the over-cropped, insipid "plonk" coming from Fresno, Lodi
SOUTHWEST Famed for the wines of Bordeaux and the brandies of Armagnac and Cognac, the
southwest sports all sorts of terrific, relatively off-the-beaten path appellations.
The wines of Bergerac are found here. So is the "black wine" of
Cahors, though they're not so black these days!
Gaillac is another obscure region. There are some remarkable grapes which
produce some amazingly good wines in this area.
The southwest also makes some remarkable wines from the Côtes de Buzet.
Madiran has some producers challenging the wines of Bordeaux. These can be
appellation of Marcillac has turned out nice wines, too!
wines have caught our attention recently, being made of Gros and
Petit Manseng. Other modest appellations include the Côtes de Duras, Côtes
Fronton (Negrette is the major grape in the Fronton...we used to have some in
Napa and Sonoma under the name "Pinot Saint George") and the Côtes du Marmandais.
LANGUEDOC & ROUSSILLON There are many changes in this fabulous treasure trove of values! The
region was once planted with an old variety called Aramon. Some of the traditional
varieties continue to prosper here; grapes such as Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache
Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre for the reds. Whites included Mauzac, Picpoul,
Bourboulenc, and Macabeu Add to these new plantings including Chardonnay, Sauvignon
Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Marsanne, Roussanne and Vermentino (or
Rolle). Many single varietal wines take a modest appellation such as Vin de Pays.
More traditional and well-regarded appellations include Blanquette de Limoux,
Corbières, Costières de Nîmes, Coteaux du Languedoc (Pic Saint-Loup, la Clape, Picpoul
de Pinet, Montpeyroux, for example), Faugères, Fitou, Minervois, Saint-Chinian,
Cabardès, Coteaux de Vérargues, La Mejanelle, Quatourze, St.-Christol, St.-Drezery,
St.-Georges-D'Orques, St.-Saturnin and Côtes de la Malpere. Closer to Spain you'll
find Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, plus Collioure and
weather is often so warm, all you might want to have is a beer in Provence, the region
makes some terrific wines. The most general appellation is "Côtes de Provence," a region covering from St. Tropez to
west of Toulon and from the sea to the first hills of the Alps! Smaller appellations
exist and the most prestigious is Bandol. Mourvèdre
the grape of Bandol and some of its wines are very long-lived. There is a bit of
white wine and a bunch of rosé produced there. Cassis is another appellation, but
don't confuse this with the liqueur made of blackcurrants (crème de cassis). North
of Marseille is the Aix-en-Provence region within which you might find wines of
"Palette" and Coteaux-des Baux-en-Provence, as well as the Coteaux
Varois designation. Near Nice you'll find the
appellation of Bellet.