An amalgamation of many disparate wine regions under a single umbrella term, France’s “Southwest” covers a massive amount of ground. Its immensely varied terrain encompasses a wealth of climates and soil types, including terroirs geographically and geologically related to the Bordelais, appellations more similar to those of the Languedoc, and completely unique grape-growing pockets tucked in the foothills of the Pyrenees, near the Spanish border. Factor in the remarkable collection of native grapes specific to these parts, and it is even more apparent how much less homogeneous—and more mysterious—the Southwest is than, say, Burgundy or Bordeaux. This diversity makes it an especially exciting place to look for wines that offer incomparable regional character as well as excellent value. While Southwestern appellations lie at the intersection of Atlantic and Mediterranean climate zones, the most meridional areas are under the influence of a third, all-commanding geographical feature: the Pyrenees. The hilly landscape in the shadow of these mighty peaks is remarkably green—the relatively cool temperatures and healthy rainfall are counterintuitive considering these are among mainland France’s southernmost vineyards. These are not big, ripe, southern bruisers; rather, their vibrant balance recalls that of Loire wines more than those from the nearby Mediterranean rim. Perhaps most exciting is the dynamic energy that has swept over le sud-ouest in recent years. Passionate young vignerons are reviving these niche appellations and producing truly stunning wines. Here are two recent arrivals, produced in tiny quantities by ambitious talents we already consider to be stars.
Deep in Basque country, the lovely Thérèse and Michel Riouspeyrous have ceded management of their small domaine to their sons, Iban and Teo (a significant career shift for the brothers after years of total domination on the Basque pilota court). Building off their parents’ decades of work that earned Irouléguy precious recognition, they have produced a master class with their latest release of the domaine’s vin de garde. A black wine made from steep inclines planted to Tannat and some Cabernet Sauvignon, it demands patience while its dense, mouth-coating tannins slowly release their clutching grip. Properly aged, it will stand tall alongside top cuvées from the likes of Tempier, Clape, and Joguet.
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