Your Wine IQ

Southwest


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Loire vineyards

A vineyard in Cahors. This photo is in the public domain.

In the complex and dense world of French wines there is much debate over which region produces the highest-quality wines, in general and in particular. Some experts tout Burgundy, others advocate for Bordeaux, and still others promote the Rhône. A much easier question, however, is which wine region makes the most diverse wines. Despite competition from the Languedoc, the Loire, Provence, and, increasingly, the Rhône, Southwest France is clearly the region of France whose wines are the most diverse.

Southwest France has no less than 18 subappellations, which are surprisingly hard to categorize. Some bear resemblance to the appellations of Bordeaux, such as Monbazillac, which makes wines often considered "poor men's Sauternes." Then there are wines that are closer to Spanish in style, such as those from the Basque region of Irouléguy, and the varietal Malbecs of Cahors. Other appellations make unique styles without parallel elsewhere in the wine world.

The reason for this great diversity is, not surprisingly, the great diversity of the land in Southwest France. The land is composed of a number of noncontiguous regions that do not fit into any other French subregion. The fragmented histories and disparate climates of the regions within are what guarantees the diversity of the wines.

While the great diversity of the wine here can indeed be confusing, in general the consumer is the one who benefits. Almost any style of wine made in the world can be found here, and the region's lack of glamor and fame can often mean that bargains are easy to find.

History

The southwest portion of France has had a long history and many of its appellations were planted before anything in Bordeaux. Due to the region's proximity to the important Dordogne and Garonne rivers, the climate was excellent and shipping to other regions easy. But the introduction of the railway system allowed better appellations that had not been in the limelight, like Bordeaux, to come to the forefront and overshadow Southwest France.

Though landmark Southwest France appellations like Bergerac became AOCs in 1936, most of the others were officially recognized later. Southwest France is a region that is still developing in terms of the quality of the wines and their world recognition.

Climate and Viticulture

The climate of this region is difficult to describe, although not in the way that the climate of Burgundy is hard to describe. It isn't that the Southwest has extremely defined, distinct terroirs. Instead, the noncontiguous regions have very separate climates and soil types. Out of all the other French regions, Bordeaux has the climate most similar to Southwest France, but differing production styles in various areas mean that the wines are not always similar. Intricate climate descriptions will be found on the pages of the specific appellations of Southwest France.

Grape Varieties

Although Bordeaux grapes are traditionally favored here, just about every grape in existence is used here, including some that aren't found anywhere else in France. In fact, Southwest France's use of rare, obscure local grapes is part of what makes the region's wines so diverse.

Major Producers

The regions for wine are too diverse in Southwest France to list major producers from each, and no producers make wine in all of Southwest France. So please see the subregion pages for details.

Subregions

The 18 major regions of Southwest France are all distinct. They are listed below with a detailed description for each.