South West wines: effusing harmony and character04-07-2017
With the grape harvest glimmering on the horizon, and possibly even earlier than expected this year, Franceagroalimentaire.com shines the spotlight on South West wines.
France’s 4th largest vineyard
Gaillac, Cahors and Madiran…just the mere mention is enough to set the taste buds in motion. The vineyards of South West France stretch from Aveyron to the Basque country. “This first major route is of major historical significance as it traces the ‘Saint-Jacques de Compostelle’ pilgrim way, which was how the grape varieties were able to spread across Europe. The second route is the Garonne river, which finds its source in the Pyrenees and flows into the Ocean” explains Paul Fabre, Director of the region’s trade body (Interprofession des vins du Sud-Ouest). Local grape varieties are the hallmark of these vineyards, with quirky names such as negrette, pinenc, mansoi, petit courbu, gros manseng and loin de l’œil. These varietals are unique to the region and responsible for the wines’ distinctive identity which can be defined by freshness, intense aromas and well-balanced tannins.
A brief look at the data gives a flavour of the scale of the region. The South West is the fourth largest vineyard in France in terms of production. In 2015, a production of 450 million bottles included 242 million white wines and 208 million red and rosé, of which 30% were AOP wines and 45% PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). With 5,000 growers, 1,000 independent cellar-door producers, 23 wine co-operatives and 20 negociants, wine is essential to the region’s economy.
Exports: the future’s bright
According to figures published by the region, 90 countries around the world consumed South West wines in 2015. Exports make up 60% of sales of PGI wines and 15% of AOP wines. “Exports remains a central focus of our development strategy in priority markets including North America, Japan and Germany. The US remains firmly in the spotlight, culminating in the annual French Fries competition organised in partnership with the Wine Enthusiast” explains Paul Fabre. North America will again remain a priority for the next 2-year period.
An ambitious event-led campaign
The South West regional trade body is particularly involved in promoting the region abroad. And to this end, it focuses on creating events that are now considered unmissable in the annual wine calendar. The annual French Fries Competition is a case in point. Primarily targeting wine trade professionals (wine specialists and restaurateurs) and importers, it retains its slightly quirky edge based on the concept of a plate of potato fries, given a unique makeover by a selection of star chefs on the New York culinary scene. The challenge then is to marry these original dishes with a selection of equally original wines from across the South West region. “In addition, we are always keen to be involved in key activities led by France, such as the ‘Good of France’ initiative, a 1-day event organised simultaneously in various major cities and showcasing the best of French gastronomy,” adds Paul Fabre. Similar events are organised in Japan, Germany and Canada, all currently considered dynamic markets for South West Wines.
The ultimate food and wine pairings
A range of full-bodied, fleshy red wines make enviable partners with meat-based dishes. A mansois from Marcillac with locally-farmed Aubrac beef is a perfect match, as is the rich intensity of a fresh Madiran to the wonderful flavours of local Bareges-Gavernie lamb. With fresh and fruity red wines such as Fronton, local farm-raised chicken thighs from Gers would make a delicious partner. And as to the dry and fruity white wines, such as Colombard from Gascony, why not try with a few slices of local Bayenne ham for a simple match made in heaven?