South X Southwest (France)

From the western Pyrénées to the eastern Alps, growing grapes is a natural.The Mistral and the Tramontana winds clear out clouds and humidity, which means there are no worries about mold and few worries about insects. Consider rocky soils, lots of sun, and proximity to both the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone River, and you have a winemaker’€™s paradise. From bulk wines years ago, today there are unique wines that range from under $20 to over $80.

The south of France’€™s wine regions include three main sections: Provence in the east, and then, separated by the Rhône Valley, Languedoc, and still heading west, Roussillon, which almost touches Spain across the Pyrénées. The lesser Pays d’€™Oc appellations are on the outskirts of Languedoc and Roussillon. The regions then continue further west, towards Bordeaux.

These regions are already putting new EU regulations on their labels, such as IGP and AOP.

AOP, the top level Appellation d’€™Origine Protégée, or Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), requires grapes and wine production to come from a limited geographical area, replacing AOC.

IGP, Indication Géographique Protégée, is an intermediary level, meaning that 85% of the grapes and wine production must come from a limited geographical area, replacing Vins de Pays.

Vins de France, a table wine category, replaces Vin de Table, but has been broadened to allow vintages and varieties on labels.

This is significant for the under-$20, value-packed wines from the south of France, since they are mostly IGP or Vins de France wines, the INAO now permits listing more than one grape variety on a label. This change is designed to help exports sell in varietally-driven markets, such as the US.

Several delicious south of France wines that were recently tasted had multi-varietal front labels, often with specific percentages on the back label.

Starting with Provence in the east, known for its dry rosés, I tasted Xavier Flouret’€™s Nationale 7 Rosé 2010, from the Domaine de Rimauresq, a Cru Classé designation awarded in 1955. It’€™s in the Côtes de Provence appellation. Grapes are Grenache, Cinsault and Tibouren. The color is a salmon/pink, and the wine has flavors of pear, with some strawberry.

From IGP Pays d’€™Oc, I tried Gris Blanc 2010 from Gérard Bertrand, with scarcely any pink color. It is made from 100% Grenache Gris, and fermented under carbon dioxide. The wine is fresh, dry, and has good acidity.

Going towards Roussillon, I tasted the white Domaine Lafage Côté Est 2009, a Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes. The winery is in Perpignan, in the eastern Pyrénées, where the locals speak Catalan. This 2009 is made from Grenache Blanc, Chardonnay and Marsanne grapes, all of which are listed on the front label. There are flavors of peach and apricot with a touch of spice.

Two whites in the western region of Armagnac, have the appellation Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne. The Domaine Uby 2010, made from equal parts of Colombard and Ugni Blanc, again listed on the front, is scented and slightly herbal. My first thought went toward a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The Domaine La Hitaire ‘€œLes Tours’€ 2010 is a totally different style from the Domaine Uby, having lower alcohol and a slight carbon dioxide tingle. It’€™s made from Ugni Blanc, Colombard and Manseng, also listed on the front.

Near the Spanish border, close to the western part of the Pyrénées, is southwestern Madiran. Two coops, along with independent winegrowers, created this PDO Madiran Producteurs Plaimont 1907, from the 2007 vintage, using Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is dark and dense. With some aeration, flavors of plum and cherry emerge.

Southeast of Bordeaux, in the PDO Cahors, is the Château de Gaudou’€™s wine Tradition 2008, made from Malbec, Merlot, and a little Tannat. Like the Madiran, it is dark and dense, but the nose also has a touch of smoke and spice. At a suggested retail price of $10, it’€™s a fine example of the values available from the south of France.

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