France’s South West region is a hidden gem with little known varietals that all wine drinkers will love. This region is in the south-west corner of France. And is also covers the area between Bordeaux, Languedoc, Spain, and the Atlantic.
The 5th biggest wine region in France
The South West wine region of France, “Sud-Ouest” in French language, is the 5th largest wine region in the country. In fact, it covers up to 120,000 acres with a rural kind of touch. There are 40,000 acres of vineyards.
Excluding the Bordeaux region, it has three times more vineyards than Napa Valley and twice more than Burgundy. Besides the wide coverage, the area is one of the least populated in France with a large diversity in varietals.
The South West region history relates to Bordeaux
The history of the development of the South West region is about complicated relationships as well as its topography. Before Bordeaux was cut off from the South West region, merchants from Gaillac, Buzet, Cahors, and Bergerac moved their wines through routes marked by the local rivers right to Bordeaux.
To protect their regional product and profit margins, between the 13th and 14th century, merchants from Bordeaux took measures that led to the currently known regions.
Although the wine region of South-West France has been overshadowed by Bordeaux, it still boasts its traditional grape varietals that differentiate its wines from those of its counterpart.
Currently, the most widely known grapes are Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, thanks to Bordeaux. The South West region, however, still gives us its traditional grape varietals of Tannat, Fer Servadou and Len de l’El.
The land of various climate, soil, and wine
The region is a mix of several terroirs and different appellations.
The South West region has four appellations; Lot River, Tarn-et-Garonne, Bergerac & Dordogne River and Pyrénées. These regions carry different types of climatic conditions, characteristics as well as varietals. Thanks to the wide variances in soil, climate, and topography, the South West region boasts of a wide portfolio of wines.
Some of the sub-regions in South West enjoy the maritime climate courtesy of the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed, on the inland side of the region, the continental climate produces a different variety of wines.
The soils range from sand, clay, and gravel in most parts of the region. The stone type of soil, is however, found in the plateau areas and on base areas of Pyrenees.
All these factors have led to a wide range of wines from this region; sweet, sparkling, dry white and full-bodied wines.
The red Tannat grape, found inMadiran and Jurançon (it is now the national grape in Uruguay) is a more known varietal and is comparable to Malbec.
The South West Sub-Regions
The variety of climates and soil allow the South West to boast many unique terroirs and produce a large variety of native grapes.
Deriving its name from the two rivers in the region, Tarn and Garonne, it has two climatic conditions- the Mediterranean and Atlantic climate. Their grapes include Bergerac, Dordogne, Pinot Noir and Rousselou as well as indigenous grapes such as Mouyssagués, Négrette, and Tennat among others.
Bergerac & Dordogne
This region borders the famous Bordeaux region. It has two rivers running through it, the Bergerac and the Dordogne. Enjoying a maritime climatic while being inland, it is usually warmer than Bordeaux.
Mérille(Indigenous grape variety)
Ondenc(Indigenous grape variety)
The wines of this region have a taste of green apple, plum and tobacco.
Known as the original home of the Malbec grape, the Lot River regions enjoy a coastal climate. The exotic tastes of these wines make them famous and for centuries, have been loved by royals of Russia and England.
Among Malbec, varietals include Merlot, Fer Servadou, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Most of the wines from this region are red.
The Pyrenees is home of the indigenous grape, Tannat, which produces rusty tasting wines. The region enjoys a highland climate, due to its proximity to the mountain range that separates itself from Spain. In fact, the region is named after these mountain ranges.
IGP- Côte de Gascogne
In this region, the laws are a bit relaxed, which allows wineries to experiment with their wines. It shares the same production zone with the Armagnac region and produces red, white and rosé wines. 75% of these are exported.
Wineries with open cellar door
The best way to taste wines from indigenous grape varieties, such as Tannat, Fer Servadou and Len de l’El, is to visit wineries in France South-West wine region.
Byonne is one of the prettiest towns of South-West France wine region. It is waterside town stretching along the rivers of Adour and Nive.
For a chance to see South West’s France longstanding architecture and history, Bayonne is one of the places to be.
This town is where the Nive and Adour come together. Bayonne is home to the famous 13th century St. Mary de Bayonne, the gothic-styled cathedral.
The streets of Bayonne, which are made of cobblestone offer you a shopping experience only comparable to Paris, with locally made cheeses and hand made linens.
With 33 protected historical monuments, Agen offers a rich experience of history and architecture.
Places to visit in Agen:
Notre Dame des Jacobins in the centre of Agen’s old town is one of the oldest buildings still standing in France. It was built in 1249 using the Old Dominican architecture.
The Agen Bridge that stretches up to 539 meters with 23 arches, treats you to one of the most beautiful sights of the Southwest. It is also the second-longest water bridge in France.
Other places to visit in this city include the Madailan Castle, Gavaudun Fortress and Lectoure among others.
With a coastline that stretches up to 5 kilometres, Anglet welcomes you to its beautiful sandy beaches and a wide range of activities.
Pay a visit to Rocher de la Vierge and get a chance to see the rock formation with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Other places to visit in Anglet include the Izadia Ecology Park and Anglet Gardens.
Foix is the Préfecture of the Ariège department in South West France right at the bottom of the Pyrenean Mountains.
Les Forges de Pyrène will treat you to a rich history of the old age tools that are still alive and used today. This place lies in 5 hectares of land and has a collection of 6,500 tools.
While still in Foix, visit Château de Foix, which was listed as a historical monument in 1840.
Culinary Specialties of South-West Wine Region
South-West France is a go-to for all adventurous foodies. Try pairing fresh Atlantic seafood with new wines at every meal.
Before this cuisine found its way to France, ancient Egyptians used the gavage method to fatten their domestic geese. This practice spread all over the Mediterranean region and found its way to the Greeks and Romans, who perfected the art. In fact, it is among one of the cuisines that are protected under France’s law of Heritage.
Foie gras refers to fat liver from a goose or duck. To enrich it with its silky, smooth texture and exotic taste, it is seasoned with pepper, sweet white wine and fleur de sel.
For wine pairing, go for sweet wine especially one that was used in preparing.
This seafood delicacy is lobster prepared with butter and parsley. You will find this in most restaurants in South West France wine region. For that exquisite taste, the coral is mixed with butter, baked in the oven and spiced with parsley when serving.
Confit de Canard
Even though it is cuisine from Gascony, Confit de Canard currently rates among the finest dishes of South-West wine region of France. Confit de Canard is a dish of duck preserved in goose fat.
Pair it with a rich, fruit-forward red.
This cuisine originated in South of France. It is a combination of white beans, meat and pork skin. It is prepared using the cassole, a traditional round and deep earthenware vessel.
Below, you will find more information about tourism in the region :