Anthony Rose: 'South-west France's native grape varieties have been rescued from near pariah status'
Rural south-west France is the essence of the route feared by the less adventurous tourist in case of discovering something other than a beach. With the pink city of Toulouse at its hub, it's a colourful tapestry of 17 wine regions stretching from the Massif Central to the Pyrenean foothills. The better-known are Cahors, Gaillac, Madiran and the Côtes de Gascogne, but its 5,000 winemakers also lurk in obscure crannies such as Entraygues et Fel, Estaing and Thézac-Perricard (hands up who's heard of those?).
The dynamic duo of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon operate in a minor key in a region whose native grape varieties have been rescued from near pariah status. Many are close to extinction. Others such as Prunelard, Lauzet, Camaralet and Saint-Côme, are making a comeback. The most widely planted bring individuality to their respective appellations: malbec in Cahors, tannat in Madiran, len de l'el in Gaillac, and gros and petit manseng in the winningly-named Pacherenc du Vic Bilh.
The heart of Gascony's dry whites is typified by blends like the 2011 Les Montgolfiers, £6.99, The Co-operative, which combines sauvignon blanc with the native gros manseng in a gooseberryish dry white. Neighbouring Saint Mont combines the gros manseng, petit courbu and arrufiac grapes in 2010 Tesco's Finest Saint Mont, £7.49, a breezy dry white with smoky aromatics and mango flavours.
You'll find a similar mix of local grapes in the 2010 Laffitte Teston Ericka Pacherence Sec, £13.50, the Sampler (020-7225 5091), a dry white full of personality with herbal aromas and a delicate pink grapefruit flavours. In a different vein, the 2010 Domaine D'Escausses, Sainte Croix, Gaillac, £14.49, Caves de Pyrène (01483 554750) brings together mauzac and muscadelle with sauvignon in a creamy dry white with a refreshing dry and nutty aftertaste.
Turning to reds, the 2006 Domaine de Pialentou, Les Gentilles Pierres, £8.75, The Wine Society (01438 740222), blends the native braucol, with syrah, merlot and cabernet in a wine of blackcurrant and plum flavours with a wisp of tobacco smoke. Close to Toulouse in Fronton, the negrette grape in the 2009 Château Bouissel, £8.99, Waitrose, brings blackcurrant flavours and crunchy tannins to a modern aromatic juicy style. To the west in Madiran, the taming of the tannat grape has brought a new suppleness to wines such as the 2009 Château Aydie, £12.08, The Wine Society, with its fragrant raspberry fruitiness.
The Wine Gang, of which I'm one, was asked to make a selection of our favourites. The result is 91 wines on display in the Maison des Vins du Sud-Ouest at Comptoir Gascon, 63 Charterhouse St, London EC1. Two to three wines can be sampled free from Tuesday to Saturday at lunch or dinner; there's a free catalogue with details including stockists.
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