Last month we did the rounds of vin nouveaux – new wines – in time for their big rollout in mid-November. This month we continue our tour of the excellent, good value wines of South West France, focussing on the vineyards in and adjacent to the Lot Valley, which is home to most Kingfisher vacation rentals.
Discovering the Wines Surrounding the Lot Valley
The South West wine region is the fourth largest in France. It excludes the famous Bordeaux vineyards, but includes internationally known appellations such as Gaillac and the Lot Valley’s own Cahors. Across the whole South West region, just under half the production is red, 40% is white and a little over 10% is the increasingly popular rosé.
In the Lot Valley, production is dominated in the east by the Cahors vignobles. The Bordeaux vineyards are off in the distance to the west. These two famous areas produce wonderful wines that everyone knows. But a vacation in South West France gives you the perfect chance to discover something different – something less well known, something good value and great to drink.
There are ten distinct appellations surrounding the Lot Valley immediately to the north, west and south, within an hour’s drive. The top names to remember are Bergerac, Côtes de Duras, Côtes du Marmandais, Côtes de Buzet and Côtes de Brulhois. Bergerac subdivides further into Montravel, Montbazillac, Pécharamant, Saussignac and Rosette.
Reds, Dry Whites, Sweet Whites and a Bit of Rosé
Throughout the areas that surround the Lot Valley, red wines represent about 60% of the production. The grapes are generally similar to those used in Bordeaux: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. They ripen slightly later inland than in Bordeaux which is near to the Atlantic coast. So the local wines are blended with more Merlot, because it is naturally quicker to ripen. In general the wines have a character much more like a Bordeaux than a Cahors, so very good if you are not a fan of the highly tannic Cahors wines.
Whites from the area are commonly blended from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris. Sauvignon Blanc is the star of the show. Some of the growing conditions in the area allow the development of the botrytis mould, making the grapes perfect for creating a few sweet whites.
Rosés are becoming more numerous in line with market demand. In this region, with one notable exception from Bruhlois, they are generally made using the saignée method, where the wine is made from juice that has been bled from red wine vats. This produces a darker pink wine than the pale, peachy coloured Provençal rosés.
A Quick Tour around the Appellations
Côtes du Marmandais
Because it is in Lot-et-Garonne, just over the border from the Gironde department, Côtes du Marmandais is not officially a Bordeaux wine. Nevertheless, the part of the Marmandais north of the Garonne river is really an eastern extension of Entre-Deux-Mers and the area south of the river abuts the Graves appellation, both of which are part of the Bordeaux region. The Marmandais red wines are mainly made of Bordeaux grape types, but they also include several local grapes, and unusually, sometimes Gamay and Syrah. The whites are principally Sauvignon Blanc.
Watch out for the various wines from Domaine Elian Da Ros. They are often cited as the best, most popular and best value Marmandais reds. Other good value offerings come from Domaine de Beyssac and Chateau de Beaulieu.
Côtes de Buzet
Buzet produces mostly red wine and it is the local wine that is most intensively marketed. You find it everywhere. The marketing is not a bad thing. It simply demonstrates that wines in the area, so close and so similar to Bordeaux, can and should be competing for your attention. Top wines to look for are Le Pech Abuse (Domaine du Pech), Georges Vigouroux Chateau Tournelles, and Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum Malbec. This latter is interesting because it is not a Bordeaux type.
There is a Chateau at Buzet sitting high on a hill, but it is not open to the public and not where the wine is made. A visit to the Vignerons de Buzet cooperative an excellent way to get to know the full range of the Buzets.
Côtes de Brulhois
Further upstream along the Garonne is the Brulhois. Even though it has a long history, it has only been an AOC since 2011. The vignoble covers a large area but has a relatively small production, which consists of reds and a notable rosé.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Fer, Cot (a local name for Malbec), Tannat, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the permitted grapes for the reds. In recent years, Brulhois has been reviving a traditional nickname, “black wine”, which gives you an idea of what the winemakers aspire to for their reds.
Grain d’Amour is Brulhois’s surprise rosé. Exceptionally, it is made from Muscat de Hambourg grapes, rarely used in the South West, using the pressurage method. The result is a very pale pink, sweetish wine that tastes of peaches and lychees.
Côtes de Duras
Moving back to the north, along the Dropt and Dordogne rivers, you’ll first find Cotes de Duras. Côtes de Duras became an AOC in 1937, long before most other South West appellations. It’s a good source of reds and whites. Situated adjacent to the Bordeaux region, Duras red wines closely resemble their Bordelais relations. The whites are drier than Bordeaux. There are two big names frequently producing some of the best, and best value, wines: Berticot (particularly for whites) and Domaine Mouthes Le Bihan. White lovers might also want to try wines from Domaine du Grand Mayne.
While in the area, you can actually visit the Chateau de Duras. The Pays de Duras website is excellent for planning a day combining sightseeing and wine tasting.
The Bergerac region is really a complex collection of different appellations.
Several of them produce sweet and medium-sweet dessert wines. Those include Rosette, Saussignac, Haut-Montravel, Côtes de Montravel and, the best known, Monbazillac. They are generally not as weighty as Sauternes. But as a result, they correspond well to today’s trend towards lighter, healthier dishes in fine cuisine.
Montravel (without Côtes de or Haut-) and Bergerac (without Côtes de) produce reds and dry whites that are drinkable when young. The reds contain a higher proportion of Merlot than Bordeaux wines and those of the other regions we’ve mentioned here.
To move up a notch in quality, look for Côtes de Bergerac. Chateau Tour des Gendres ‘La Gloire de Mon Pere’ and Chateau Belingard Ortus are good examples of reds. Chateau Tour des Gendres rates highly for its whites (Bergerac Sec) too.
We finish our tour with a relatively little known exceptional wine from just east of Bergerac: Pécharmant. The wine is a full-bodied red blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Pecharmant wines are considered a cut above the more rustic Bergerac reds. Only a few domains make this wine which is hardly found outside the Bergerac area.
The sun, pool, beautiful scenery, charming villages, colourful markets and delicious food are the essence of a holiday in South West France. Experiencing the local wines is another dimension to add to your stay. You’d really like to return from holiday having made a ‘find’ of perfect, affordable, delicious everyday wine to enjoy back home. You can. In a holiday cottage, villa or farmhouse from Kingfisher, the vineyards are just a short distance in every direction and are just waiting to be explored.
For information about Kingfisher’s holiday cottages, villas and farmhouses in great locations for sampling South West France’s wines, click here.