The Southwest of France: The Wines of Gascony
In the southwest of France, winemakers produce more than two dozen appellations, making the region the fourth largest in terms of both sales and production. The area is often best known for its Bordeaux wines, but it's clearly far from the only wine of the area. For one, Gascony is more than just the home of D'Artagnan in the Three Muskeeters by Alexandre Dumas.
But the reason that Bordeaux wines are better known than the wines of Gascogne -- also known as Gascony, due to the area once being under British rule -- is steeped in history. For quite some time, so the story goes, Gascony wines were actually more popular than their Bordeaux counterparts (even as part of the Gascony region overlapped with Bordeaux). At their peak of popularity in the early 1300s, Gascon vintners exported 103,00 tons! But these wines were being shipped from the port of Bordeaux, and Bordeaux wine merchants saw the wines as a threat, naturally so. Regulations were then put in place and the exports, and in turn sales, of Gascony wines declined.
Today, history aside, or perhaps because of the region's history, the remote area in southwest France is actually better known for Armagnac, a brandy made with white wine grapes. Even so, there are nine wine appellations particular to Gascony and most are sold for export.
The Cotes de Gascogne IGP wines (the IGP status signifying that the wines are made in a defined geographical area) have a low price point, which lead some people to think they're "budget" wines. Despite that, they can hold their own, and the red wines typically go well with the regional specialties of the area, especially hearty rustic dishes made with duck and goose, as well as the popular cassoulet. The white wines, on the other hand, pair best with seafood dishes.
As for the grapes, all are influenced by the region's healthy mix of sunshine and rain. The Ugni Blanc is, perhaps, the most prominent in the white wines, and is actually one of the most prolific grape varieties in the world, as it's considered a blending grape. The crisp white wines also typically feature Sauvignon Blanc, Colombard (also often used in brandy), and Gros Manseng grapes. As for the reds, they are made with Merlot, Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grapes.
With a wine and culinary vacation to France, discover even more about these wines. During our Gascony Cookery School trip in particular, you'll visit the Musée de vin and learn more about the region's centuries-old winemaking practices.
By Liz Hall