Friday, April 3, 2015

The White Wines Of Southwestern France

The Côtes de Gascogne region is in the southwest of France, in the Armagnac region, and is known as Gascony in English. There is forest to the west, then the Atlantic Ocean; the Pyrenees Mountains, then Spain to south. Various combinations of clay, limestone, sand and silt make up the soils.

The Gascogne wines are mostly white, with only ten percent red and ten percent rosé. The white grapes are Colombard, Gros Manseng, Ugni Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  Red grapes include Tannat, Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon. 75% of the Gascogne wines are made for export. Look here for dry, crisp, refreshing, aromatic whites.

The following wines were provided to me as samples for the purpose of this article.

Domaine San de Guilhem resides in the village of Ramouzens in the eastern portion of the Bas-Armanac region. Alain Lalanne is the fourth generation to work the soil of this land and bring forward the potential of the fruit of its vines. When his father retired in 1970, Armagnac was all they produced, a brandy distilled from wine made of the region's grapes. At that time they faced a declining demand for Armagnac and decided - along with the other growers in the region - to turn their grapes into wine rather than spirits. Lalanne was among the first in Gascogne to plant Gros Manseng, which adds a nice balance to their white wines. It is not an easy grape to coax from the ground. As Lalanne puts it, “Gros Manseng does not accommodate hot summers, the smallest hailstone ruins it. Nevertheless, what class!  Powerful in alcohol, strong in acidity, long in the mouth with persistent aromatics, it transcends the Côtes de Gascogne.”

This wine is made from the main grapes of Gascogne, 40% Colombard, 30% Gros Manseng and 30% Ugni Blanc. It is Lalanne’s main product, although he still makes a bit of Armagnac, too.

This refreshing white has a very nice nose of tropical fruit and citrus, towing minerals along behind it.  The aromas are made even lovelier by a slight floral scent.   Great minerals appear on the palate with a twist of lime and fabulous acidity.  There is a hint of oak - just a hint - and the finish has a bit of salinity on it.  It's zingy and refreshing, perfect for spring and summer sips and salads.

Domaine de Tariquet has a rich history, combining bear tamers, hairdressers, three nations, two world wars and a bad case of amnesia in their fascinating story, into which you can delve here.

Their Classic is composed of 45% Ugni Blanc, 35% Colombard, 10% Sauvignon and 10% Gros Manseng. It is imported by Robert Kacher Selections of New York. At 10.5% abv, the alcohol is very restrained, making for a very drinkable wine.

Very pale in color, the wine's fruity nose shows peach and pear along with a very savory aspect. There are plenty of minerals underneath, but an herbal overlay takes the spotlight. It tastes like I imagine wet rocks would, and features an earthy fruit flavor.

Domaine Chiroulet has weathered 150 years of such hindrances as phylloxera and World War Two, not necessarily in that order of importance. Seated on some of the highest slopes in the region, the land is named after a local word for "wind that whistles."

The white wines of Chiroulet come from the clay and limestone-rich soil with some chalky outcrops - all of which come through on the palate.

The Chiroulet Terres Blanches - the domaine' top white wine - hits 12.5% abv and is labeled as white Gascony wine - en Francais, Côtes de Gascogne IGP.  This wine is aged in tanks for eight months, with additional fullness added by the stirring of the spent yeast cells.  It is imported by Charles Neal Selections of Richmond, CA.  50% Gros Manseng, 40% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Ugni Blanc.

This yellow-gold wine shows the classic terroir of southwest France - limestone, chalk and the essence of wet stones.  Its nose is full of this minerality, with the aroma of Meyer lemons and light oak spice filling out the profile.  On the palate comes a bracing acidity, fresh citrus fruit and that incredible minerality which begs for something from the sea - anything from the sea - but make it shellfish, please.

Domaine de Menard is a relative youngster in this group, established in 1920 by a Swiss vintner. Forty years later, his daughter expanded the operation and now a third generation is involved in growing grapes and making wine.

The 2013 Cuvée Marine is imported from the Gascogne by Paul M. Young Fine Wines. It reaches 11.5% abv and shows a beautiful, light green tint.

There is a grassy nose decorated with lemon and minerals aplenty. The very full mouthfeel shows nice acidity, a good combination. Lemon and lime zest on the palate is chock full of minerality. The wine finishes brisk and clean, with just a hint of oak. It makes me feel all summery inside. You may experience similar results.

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