The Wine Cellar: A tradition of unique grapes add flavor to South West vintages
N ever heard of négrette, fer servadou, duras and gros manseng , let alone prunelart, ondenc and loin de l’œil ?
Not to worry.
These wine grapes represent just a smattering of more than 130 varieties scattered across the storied vineyards of South West France. The region’s viticulture blossomed during the Roman era. In the Middle Ages, industrious monks produced wines to quench thirsty pilgrims traversing the region on the way to St. Jacques de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
Later, the tumultuous French Revolution, the devastating 19th-century phylloxera infestation and economically disruptive wars sorely challenged the region’s wine culture. Through it all, generations of undaunted South West wine growers persevered and, somehow, preserved the region’s unique traditions and wines. Today, a new, well-travelled and outward-looking generation of vignerons — and female vigneronnes — has emerged poised to share their diverse wines with a wider audience.
Faubourg 73, a charming, hip bistro in the town of Montauban, embodies the region’s confident, vibrant spirit. With a musical backdrop ranging from the Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” engaging proprietor Pierre Cantagel efficiently serves “bistronomie” cuisine. The fun, laid-back approach incorporates fresh, local ingredients served in delicious small plates.
Thin slices of jambon noire de Bigorre — ham made from local black pigs — precede small cups of cream of pumpkin soup, mussels Basquaise with fresh chorizo sausage, Vietnamese venison eggrolls and braised duck pieces with caramelized shallot in a rich red wine sauce. Winegrower Frédéric Ribes matches each successive dish with whites and reds from Fronton, a 5,000-acre appellation making terrific wines seldom known in America.
Ribes, along with his brother Jean-Luc and the polyglot jack-of-all-trades Pierre Salama, specializes in négrette, a grape also known as folle noire (“crazy black”). The vines grow in Boulbènes, soils of silt and clay mixed with quartz and oxidized red stones called rougets .
Their 2012 Domaine Le Roc La Folle Noire d’Ambat, Fronton (available nationally online for around $16) comes from 100 percent négrette fermented in concrete tanks and then aged in large, neutral foudres. Black-cherry and violet aromas open to rich, ripe dark fruit and réglisse — black liquorice flavors. Fresh acidity and smooth tannins frame the juicy, fruity finish. Highly recommended.
Anne Arbeau at Château Coutinel-Vignoble Arbeau also offers an excellent Fronton folle noire, available nationally.
Nearby Gaillac (pronounced guy-ack ) producers offer a glittering galaxy of dry sparklers, crisp, exotic whites, fruity rosés, earthy reds and luscious, sweet dessert wines. The Romans planted vineyards here as part of their Mediterranean Narbonne province. Monks at Abbey-Saint Michel solidified Gaillac’s winemaking traditions and prosperity for centuries. English kings long preferred the wines.
Today, vibrant producers such as Domaine Plageoles, Domaine Causse Marines, and L’Enclos des Braves have embraced Gaillac’s traditional varieties to export hand-crafted, attractively priced, terroir- driven wines.
Nationally, look for the 2012 Plageoles Le Duras, Gaillac Rouge (around $23 online), an intriguing red made from 100-percent Duras grown on clay and limestone soils and then fermented and aged in concrete. Black-cherry, black-pepper and earthy notes balance beautifully with fresh acidity and smooth tannins.
The 2012 Domaine Causse Marines “Peyrouzelles” Gaillac Rouge (around $25) blend of syrah, duras and braucol (aka fer servadou) delivers a juicy, easy drinking red. Spicy red-currant and smoky, peppery aromas and flavors layer in juicy acidity and elegant tannins.
In Pennsylvania, try:
The 2011 Charles Hours Jurançon Sec “Cuvée Marie,” France (Luxury 31528; $20.99) comes from an appellation in the foot hills of the Pyrénées Mountains near Spain. The father-daughter winemaking team use hand-picked gros manseng and courbu grapes fermented in mostly older oak barrels. The golden color unfolds pineapple and quince aromas and flavors. Bracing acidity and fresh mineral notes balance the pleasantly creamy texture and dry, lingering finish. Recommended.
For the 2010 Domaine des Terrisses Gaillac Rouge, France (Luxury 46259; $12.99) Bridgette and Alain Cazottes blend braucol, duras and syrah. They deliver generously on complexity and pleasure for the price. Black-fruit aromas with earthy, meaty and leathery nuances open to juicy, easy drinking dark-red-fruit flavors with fresh acidity and mineral notes. Highly recommended.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].