Perennially popular as a holiday destination, the South West of France covers some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Alongside the stunning hills, expansive views and beautiful river valleys, this part of France is also home to some incredible wine producing areas.
Situated to the south of Bordeaux, around the rivers Dordogne and Garonne, the vineyards of the south-west occupy around 40,000 acres of land. For a wine lover, this area offers the opportunity to discover a variety of renowned vintages, which complement the equally respected regions of Champagne and the Rhone Valley. And with many stunning villas in France available to rent surrounded by some of the world’s best vineyards, why wait to discover the wonderful wines of the south-west of France?
Bordeaux wines are some of the most highly valued in the world, noted for their full bodied, comforting warmth and complex flavours. A perfect winter warmer, Bordeaux of all vintages is a good, solid choice and an all-round crowd pleaser, especially when accompanied by meat or game. However, if you really want to push the boat out, the reds bottled in 2000 and in 1996 are excellent for both drinking now or for keeping a little longer to perfect the flavour. If you’re buying a younger wine, both 2010 and 2009 were good years, but these wines will only get better with age, so consider keeping them for a few more years to enjoy them at their best.
Nothing can really come close to trying a Bordeaux right there at the vineyard where it’s produced. In south-west France, you can take your pick from over 100,000 vineyards dotted across the region. Be aware, however, that the term ‘Bordeaux’ covers a variety of more familiar wines, from Merlots to Sauvignon Blancs.
Here’s where you should be going to discover your favourite wine, poured right where it’s grown.
A highly recommended day out, Château de Pitray is conveniently situated just outside Saint-Emilion (pictures below). Owned by the same family, the Boignes, for over 600 years, this vineyard specialises in Merlot and Cabernet Franc Bordeaux wines, and produces an impressive 240,000 bottles every year.
If you are more of a white wine person, head to Château Pape-Clément. The oldest vineyard in the region, this producer has harvested over 700 vintages to date. They produce some outstanding Cabernet-Sauvignon and Merlot, but are one of the few Bordeaux vineyards to grow a small number of white grapes each year too. Their Sauvignon Blanc is exquisite, as is their Muscadelle and Semillon, and with 30 hectares of stunning landscapes around the Chateau, it’s agreat place to experience the natural beauty of this area too.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild is about an hour away from Bordeaux, to the north of the region. If you like your clarets, you might already recognise this vineyard, as they produce an award winning bottle of the same name. As well as their world beating claret, you can discover wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon here, as well as Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region of France covers the area to the west of the Rhone and down to theCote D’Azur and the Mediterranean coast towards Spain. Out of all the wine producing regions, this one delivers the most in terms of volume every year. Thanks to the long sunny days and high temperatures experienced in this part of France, the grapes ripen quickly and fully, making for wines which are rich and full bodied often with high alcohol content.
Fitou is a red wine produced to the north of Perpignan in the Roussillon area. Made mainly from the Carignan grape, along with a blend of other well-known grape varieties, such as Grenache and Syrah, these wines were designed to be enjoyed young. This makes for some wonderfully tannic flavours and fresh fruit overtones, and a great wine for enjoying with dinner or on its own.
One of the most famous producers of Fitou is Mont Tauch, a cooperative of farmers established since 1913. As well as Fitou, Mont Tauch produces wonderful Vins de Pays and Corbierès. The vineyard is perched in a breath-taking location overlooking a cliff face, and has a multimedia visitor centre where you can learn about the vineyard’s history
The second ‘appellation’ that you simply have to acknowledge when in the Languedoc region is the Corbières. Although there are many producers who welcome visitors across the region, one of the best iterations of the wine is most definitely to be found at La Voulte Gasparet. Their Boutenac is one of the Grand Crus of Languedoc, which is a special subsection of the Corbières.
Visiting the family estate at La Voulte Gasparet will open doors to tastings of some of the finest wines the region produces. They’ll let you peek in their barrel room if you ask politely, and will introduce you to some of the very best of this underrated and delicious wine variety.
Around the South West, there are many more areas offering smaller, more unique wineries with theirown distinctive wines. Take some time to explore the local offerings, as well as visiting the big hitters,as sometimes the most unexpected discoveries can be the very best too.