Southwest France’s wine is in a league of its own

As the wine world homogenizes into the “international” style invented by America’s wine critics and imposed on the globe by our potent buying power, it’s nice to come across a wine region that sticks to its guns and the native grapes it’s been growing since before the birth of Christ.

Southwest France is like that.

It’s a beautiful area 300 miles across, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Pyrenees and Spain on the south, centered on the historic city of Toulouse. It’s little-known to Americans, but it produces 450 million bottles of wine a year, in part from ancient red grapes like tannat, fer servadou, prunelart, negrette and a malbec that is very different from its cousins in Argentina.

The grapes cover a big range of flavors — the tannic tannat; the powerful, fruity fer servadou; the soft, generous prunelart; the smooth and licorice-flavored negrette; and the surprisingly sturdy, mineral-scented malbec.

Ranging from delicate to rustic, from silky to iron-fisted, the wines grew up with (and therefore go well with) a hearty local cuisine of cassoulet, wild game, duck confit, foie gras, the earthy, buttery Tomme de Pyrenees cheese and even chocolate desserts.

Now, Southwest France’s 850 independent producers and 23 cooperative cellars are grouped into more than two dozen grape-growing appellations with names like Cahors, Gaillac and Madiran. And they’re banding together to make a push for fame, putting their wines out into the world where U.S. wine fans have a growing chance of finding them in local wine shops.

You might, however, have to ask your wine merchant to order them for you. Then you can win bragging rights from your wine pals for introducing them to something that’s not your grandson’s big international style wine, but nicely close to unique.

Highly Recommended

▪ 2011 Chateau Lamartine “Cuvee Particuliere,” by Gayraud et Fils, AOC Cahors, (90 percent malbec, 10 percent tannat): deep purple hue, intense aromas and flavors of black raspberries and cloves, full-bodied; $24.

▪ 2010 Clos Triguedina “Probus” Malbec, Grand Vin de Cahors, by Jean-Luc Baldes AOC Cahors (100 percent malbec): aromas and flavors of black plums and tobacco, rich and hearty, powerful; $60.

▪ 2012 L’Enclos des Braves “Les Gourmands” Red Wine, AOC Gaillac (84 percent fer servadou, 16 percent prunelart): inky color, aromas and flavors of cassis, blackberries and spice, soft and light, with smooth tannins; $16.


▪ 2009 Chateau Chambert Malbec, AOC Cahors (85 percent malbec, 15 percent merlot): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black plums and minerals, smooth tannins, crisp acids; $40.

▪ 2011 Chateau Lastours Red Wine, AOC Gaillac (30 percent syrah, 30 percent braucol (fer servadou), 20 percent merlot, 20 percent merlot): aromas and flavors of red raspberries, minerals and herbs, crisp acids, light body, soft tannins; $12.

▪ 2012 Chateau Lamartine “Prestige du Malbec,” AOC Cahors (100 percent malbec): aromas and flavors of black cherries and licorice, soft tannins; $16.

▪ 2012 Domaine du Cros “Cuvée Vieilles Vignes,” AOC Marcillac (100 percent fer servadou): deep red hue, aromas and flavors of cassis, mint and earth, big, ripe tannins; $20.

▪ 2012 Chateau Viella “Tradition” Red Wine, AOC Madiran (60 percent tannat, 40 percent cabernet franc): deep red, aromas and flavors of ripe red plum and black coffee; $11.

▪ 2012 Domaine Damiens “Saint-Jean” Red Wine, AOC Madiran; (mostly tannat): deep, dark color, aromas and flavors of cherry liqueur, soft but full-bodied; $25.

▪ 2012 Domaine Le Roc “La Folle Noire d’Ambat” Red Wine, AOC Fronton (100 percent negrette): bright red color, aromas of oak and violets, flavors of blackberries, licorice and black pepper, smooth tannins, light body; $19.

Fred Tasker: