In Yesterday's Washington Post, David McIntyre writes praises of the wines of the Southwest and reviews wines from Domaine Brana, Domaine du Cros, Clos Fardet and Camin Larredya.
5 Wines to try from Southwestern France
The husband-and-wife team of Ed Addiss and Barbara Selig have specialized in importing wines from southwestern France under their Falls Church-based Wine Traditions label, representing family-owned wineries that use environmentally friendly farming to produce wines that reflect individuality and terroir. They give Washington area wine lovers a unique opportunity to explore this region. — D.M.
Domaine Brana Ohitza 2010
★★1 / 2
Irouleguy, France, $22
This blend is 80 percent tannat, the rest cabernet franc. Its structure speaks of the mountains (Irouleguy is nestled among the foothills of the Pyrenees), yet the cab franc lends a softness and a Bordeaux sensibility that makes the wine eminently accessible now, while easily worthy of five or six years in your cellar.
Clos Fardet Madiran 2010
★★1 / 2
Madiran, France, $18
Madiran is happily situated to enjoy the cool climatic influence of the Atlantic as well as the warmth from the Mediterranean. Its tannat-based wines are closer in style to those of Virginia: rich, tannic and ripe, with bright red fruit and a dense earthiness to keep the flavors grounded. The Clos Fardet shows dark berry fruit with an appealing stony character.
Domaine du Cros Cuvee Vieilles Vignes 2010
Marcillac, France, $18
Made entirely from the fer servadou grape, this is almost nutty, with a roasted character over ripe dark-fruit flavors. There’s an appealing liveliness that suggests authenticity and honesty. It tastes as though someone’s hands were involved in its production.
Camin Larredya Au Capceu 2010
Jurancon, France, $35
This sweet dessert wine made entirely from the petit manseng grape could be the poor man’s Sauternes: rich and honeyed, without the sublime knee-buckling focus, to be sure, but also without the knee-buckling price tag. This is a model for sweet wines from this grape in Virginia. Camin Larredya also makes delicious dry wines from gros manseng and petit manseng at more affordable prices.
Wine Traditions Ltd.:
Available in the District at Cork Market, MacArthur Beverages; on the list at Cork Wine Bar.
Available in Virginia at Arrowine and Whole Foods Market in Arlington, at the Wine Cabinet in Reston; on the list at Bastille in Alexandria.
Dave McIntyre MAR 19
With their combination of history, geography and ethnic culture, the wines are a must for “travelers.”
Southwest France is a bit off the beaten track, in travel and in wine. When wine lovers go to France — and by that I mean the French shelves at our local wine store — we gravitate toward Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and the Rhone Valley. The hipsters among us long for the Loire, while more old-fashioned enogeeks reach for Alsace. Most of us don’t get to the southwest, which is too bad, because the wines can be as delicious as the scenery is spectacular.
So the next time you feel like traveling by corkscrew, ask your retailer to take you to Irouleguy, Fronton, Madiran or Jurancon. You’ll taste unfamiliar grapes such as negrette, tannat and fer servadou, reds that produce wine at once perfumed and rugged. Gros and petit manseng produce aromatic whites that range from dry and delicate to unctuously sweet.
These aren’t the stylish wines of classed-growth Bordeaux chateaux, nor do they have the sublime luxury of premier cru Burgundy. But they are honest, tasting as though they were grown and produced in a particular place instead of according to a recipe. They are what some people might call “weeknight wines,” because they are inexpensive and uncomplicated. You don’t need to worry about which foods to match with them; almost anything works. They won’t take you too far out of your comfort zone. Most are blended with familiar grapes such as cabernet franc, malbec and syrah.
And it’s fun to say Irouleguy (ee-ROO-luh-ghee). That appellation name is one of the easier words to pronounce on the labels of the excellent Domaine Brana. The wine names reflect the Basque influence of the region; they include the Ohitza red blend, made from tannat that’s tamed with 20 percent cabernet franc.
Exploring southwestern France gives me an excuse to consult my favorite travel primer, “Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours,” by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz (HarperCollins, 2012), more an encyclopedic tome than a pocket travel guide, to be sure.
Tannat, for example, is known for its high tannin (the mouth-puckering, drying factor in red wine), though its name may refer to its dark color. Micro-oxygenation, the modern technique of bubbling small amounts of air into young wine to soften the tannins, was developed in Madiran, the appellation most known for tannat.
Fer servadou, or simply fer, derives from the Latin word for wild, and this grape is the genetic grandparent of carmenere, now popular in Chile. It shines at Domaine du Cros in Marcillac, an appellation that enjoys climatic influence of both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Negrette, as its name suggests, is another dark-colored grape, though more aromatic and less brooding than tannat. It is blended successfully with syrah, cabernet sauvignon and malbec at Chateau Bouissel in Fronton. While fer servadou may be native to southwestern France, negrette is thought to have been brought back from the Crusades by the Knights Templar.
If some of these grape names sound familiar, you might be hearing their Virginia accent. Tannat and fer servadou were planted in the 1990s by vintners eager to experiment with grape varieties that could ripen well in Virginia’s humid climate and contribute color and tannin to its sometimes pallid red wines. Today they show up in wines produced by Chrysalis, Hillsborough and Fabbioli Cellars in Loudoun County, as well as Delaplane Cellars in Fauquier County and Horton Vineyards in Orange County. Varietally labeled tannat can be quite good in Virginia.
Virginia is also making nice wine from petit manseng, a floral white grape that survives well against humidity and ripens with high acidity and sugar levels. In France, the grape plays a minor supporting role to gros manseng in the white wines of Jurancon. Those range from dry, fruity whites to unctuously sweet dessert wines.
With their combination of history, geography and ethnic culture in the glass, the wines of southwest France are too delicious to leave off your travel itinerary.