No food and wine holiday would be complete without a glass or two of the area’s finest, whether from one of the famed Chateaux of nearby Bordeaux, Spanish Rioja, Ribera-del-Duero or Béarn itself, which boasts a range of quality vineyards.
Historically, the south west of France is linked with the aristocracy of Bordeaux, and thus the grape varieties are often similar, with use of the noble varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But we encourage our guests to discover exciting and unusual local wines such as the Jurançon, Madiran or Irouleguy.
The wines of South West France range from rich and fresh to wild and dramatic and are generally very good value.
With fierce pride and long-standing traditions, these small, scattered, wine areas that fall under the South West of France regional label, produce impressive wines from indigenous, exciting local varieties of considerable individuality.
Famous for sweet white wines and dry white wines, Jurançon is cultivated on steep southern slopes facing the Pyrénées mountain range. Traditional grapes such as Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Lauzet help create a refreshing dry white, with a hint of green in its colour, whilst the golden coloured sweet Jurançon can be aged almost indefinitely. The sweet wines are made from dried rather than botrytised grapes and its style is not too dissimilar to Sauternes (made from botrytised grapes). The area often gets an Indian summer, with warm winds from Spain, which is why the area is not conducive to botrytis and why vines are planted in sunny little nooks and crannies, often on very steep south or sough-west facing slopes. A drive through the Jurançon vineyards is a highlight to any holiday in the area especially in autumn during the ‘vendange’ (harvest) which are later in this area. If you happen to be in the area in early December, the independent wineries hold their annual “open house”. This is a very popular and festive way to end the harvesting season.
On the edge of Basque country, along the left bank of the Adour river, the hilly region of Madiran is one of the gems of the south-west, producing rich, aromatic, character-full reds from the local Tannat grape, often blended with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc or Fer Servadou. The grape variety is thought to have originated in the Basque country and almost certainly derives its French name from its high tannin levels. Madiran used to be a byword for tough, earthy and rustic wines which had chewy tannins that never softened. The quality however has greatly improved over the last 20 years with the wines being softer, richer in fruit, and with smoother and more supple tannins. With ageing, tannins round out beautifully while the wine develops nuances of spices, coffee, cocoa, and vanilla. Some of the younger generation of winemakers have been experimenting with, and producing, wines which are softer and more approachable in their youth, mirroring a similar tendency in Bordeaux and elsewhere. The local wine growers hold their own open house tour in late November.
‘Madiran is Gascony’s great red wine… After seven or eight years, fine Madiran is truly admirable: aromatic, full of flavour, fluid and lively, well able to withstand comparison with classed growth Bordeaux and an accompanying confit de canard’ (Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, World Atlas of Wine, Mitchell Beazley)
For a fragrant rose, this isolated appellation is the perfect choice, and whilst Irouleguy now produce increasing amounts of red and some white, it is the delicate pink vintage which draws acclaim. Blended from equal measures of local varieties and those favoured in Bordeaux, this vineyard plays an ideal balance between Spanish and French wines.
The local Béarn table wines are mostly full-flavoured reds, which are rarely exported outside the region. Tannat grapes are the main feature, alongside Manseng Noir and Cabernet Franc. White wines are blended from native grapes and produce refreshing light styles, well-matched with food. There is also a Rosé du Béarn, to be appreciated chilled in a hot summer. Most of these local wines are produced via co-operstives, such as that nearby Bellocq, a bastide town with its 13th century medieval castle, set right on the shore of the Gave de Pau.
Buzet was known in Roman times as a ‘land of good living’ and its vineyards are bordered by the river Baise the Garonne Valley and the Landes forest, all of which create a pleasantly-tempered climate for Buzet’s classic style of red, white and rose wine.
Cotes du Marmandais
In close proximity to Bordeaux, the Cotes du Marmandais vintages have much in common with the famous region. As the wines cannot exceed 75% Cabernet Franc and Merlot in content, however, local varieties add intriguing depth and variation.
Cotes du St-Mont
Despite a name change from Cotes de Saint-Mont in 1981, Cotes du St-Mont have done little to change their wine-making, which owes much to a remarkably sunny micro-climate. The siliceous soil helps bring the best out of traditional Cabernets and Merlots, whilt whites include blends of Gros Manseng and Courbu.
Situated in the cooler regions at the foot of the Pyrenees, grapes ripen slowly and fully in this attractive area. Tursan is currently enhancing its tourist offering, and improving the quality of its wines, which include whites, reds and roses made from regional grapes.