Located near the Garonne river, the Fronton AOC is one of the many Southwest France wine appellations that borders Bordeaux. The main grape of Fronton is local grape Négrette, which has almost no plantings elsewhere in the world. Though some producers opt to blend in more conventional grapes, most Frontons provide a varietal essence of this unusual grape. Sweet and feminine with floral flavors, the wines have a good long finish.
The Négrette grape is said to date all the way back to the beginnings of wine in Cyprus. Why it today is planted only in Fronton is a mystery; what is known is that the Fronton area has been a center of wine production since slightly before Roman times, and Fronton had attained world renown before the catastrophic phylloxera epidemic. Laid to waste by the vine louse, the vineyards nonetheless were replanted years later. The appellation was first known as Côtes du Frontonnais when it received AOC status in 1975, but was simplified to Fronton 30 years later.
Climate and Viticulture
The climate of Fronton is not noticeably different from that of Bordeaux, in terms of the weather and rainfall. The big distinction of Fronton is the terraces the vines are grown on; they are located high on hills and are steeper in attitude than most in this part of France. The soil is primarily made up of an unusual quartzite gravel.
The main grape varietal here is Négrette, which in these wines has sweet but strong flavors of black fruit and jam, and a violety floral element as well. Rarely used anywhere else in the world, the grape makes wines with impressive aging potential. Producers are permitted to blend in Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or Syrah, since varietal Négrette is often considered too soft and feminine, but many producers prefer to keep the wines pure. Less unusual white wines are made from Sauvignon Blanc.
Unfortunately for Fronton producers and consumers in most parts of the world, the charms of these wines have not yet been discovered by importers, and good red Fronton is quite difficult to find outside France. We note two producers whose wines are easier to find than most and also are high-quality.
- Château Bellevue la Forêt: Still the absolute leader in Fronton, Bellevue la Forêt makes a large range of wines. Made from half Négrette, with the rest Cabernet and Syrah, the violety, black-fruit-flavored Classique is the entry-level red wine. The BLF is almost half Syrah, showing Syrah's usual spicy elements, while the rich, gamy varietal Négrette cuvée Ce Vin has the best ratings and is considered the flagship cuvée. There are also some good rosés.
- Château Le Roc: Le Roc's most commonly seen wine is actually an unusual rosé, but the Classique red is worth searching out. Based mainly on Négrette with Syrah as a supplementary variety, it boasts red and black fruit flavors, a silky texture, and Syrah's telltale spicy aromas.