The Explore 4: The Soulful Sud-Ouest

The Explore 4: The Soulful Sud-Ouest

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SommSelect’s “Explore 4” surveys the vast landscape of wine and breaks it into small, digestible bites. Each month, we select four bottles that fit a theme, allowing members to experience a diversity of styles while developing their own palate preferences. It’s an ongoing exploration of wine through a sommelier’s eyes and there’s no more effective, and enjoyable, way to learn about wine. 

In this edition of Explore 4, SommSelect is not intimidated by remote and insular growing zones or unfamiliar local grapes. The South West is an otherworldly, unspoiled place—completely bucolic but also dotted with Michelin-starred restaurants serving duck and foie gras. There’s vinous treasure to be found here, so let’s get on with it! Here is what is in the box: 

Domaine des Cassagnoles, Côtes de Gascogne Blanc 2022

The IGP (geographical indication) “Côtes de Gascogne” covers a broad area of Gascony and roughly corresponds to the delimited production zone for Armagnac. Domaine des Cassagnoles not only produces Armagnac and the local apéritif Floc de Gascogne (a mistelle crafted from brandy and unfermented grape must), but has been at the forefront of quality wine production in Gascony. Winemaker Gilles Baumann and his daughter, Laure, craft a taut and highly aromatic white from Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng, and Sauvignon Blanc. This is a high-acid, mineral white that would make a great pairing with winter citrus salads or some fresh chèvre.

Domaine Le Roc, Fronton “La Folle Noire d’Ambat” 2020

Jean-Luc and Frédéric Ribes took over their family’s property in 1981, and over the years they’ve converted their 38 hectares of vineyards to organics. The Fronton AOC is north of Toulouse, spreading across low hills between the Tarn and Garonne Rivers. This 100% Négrette is sourced from 30-year-old vines rooted in clay soils that are rich in silica and iron oxide. Négrette is one of those varieties that smells and tastes like it sounds: There’s lots of black fruit, black pepper, and charcoal notes. A fresh, lively red for pairing with coq au vin, steak au poivre... anything from the bistro canon.

Château Coustarelle, Cahors “Grande Cuvée Prestige” 2019

Headquartered in the village of Prayssac and dating to 1870, this legendary estate is now overseen by the fifth generation of the Cassot family. This is the real deal: 90% Malbec and 10% Tannat from seriously old vines, completely de-stemmed and fermented on ambient yeasts in stainless steel vats. The wine is aged for 12 months in those same stainless steel tanks and is then transferred to oak barrels, a fifth of which are new each year, where it spends 12 additional months.

Domaine Berthoumieu, Madiran “Charles de Batz” 2017

The rolling hills of Gascony are home to the village (and surrounding wine-growing zone) of Madiran, where the vineyards are about 60 miles inland from the Atlantic and therefore relatively warm and dry. Berthoumieux was founded in the 1850s in Viella and taken over in the 1990s by Marie-Line and Didier Barré. 90% Tannat with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon from 50-100-year-old vines. It is medium-plus in body with a nice dose of sappy mid-palate fruit that tames Tannat’s tannins and lends some lushness to the texture. A full-throttle, take-no-prisoners red wine: get this on the table with a hearty dinner!

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