The wines of the south west of France or, in French, Les vins du Sud-Ouest, have, since the horrors of phylloxera, been fighting to get recognition on the international wine market. Cooperatives and wine makers have taken the region’s local grapes, such as Gros Manseng, Fer Sarvadou, Tannat, Pinenc and Loin de l’oeil and, using the diverse terroires, have created a range of wines that can now hold their own among the more traditional grape varieties. The region includes appellations like Cahors, Madiran, Saint-Mont, Fronton, Gaillac and Irouleguy. A seminar was held at the London International Wine Fair in May 2009, hosted by Anthony Rose, wine writer for The Independent Newspaper, to publicise these wines. I went along to Excel for the LIWF to find out what they have to offer and perhaps get some recommendations for summer drinks or wines for laying down.
Fronton lies between the rivers Garonne and Tarn to the north of Toulouse and south of Montaubin. Terroir – the affect that location; soil type, climate, angle and orientation of slope, has on the character of the wine – is very variable here, as the district is near in character to that of a temperate desert, the slight variations in the impoverished soil can make huge differences in flavour.
Key to the style of Fronton red wines, is the historic grape Negrette, which grows well in this rough soil and has been around since the 12th Century, when it was (according to local legend) brought from Cyprus by the Knights Templar. One of its many regional nicknames is Pinot Saint Georges – which might back this up.
Negrette has a thin skin and is low in tannin, so even though it gives a unique character, wine made with it alone will not keep, and it’ll be bland. The solution is to blend in other grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Gamay are all used to give the wine some backbone.
Chateau Bellevue La Foret’s Optimum 2008 blends Negrette with Syrah (common in the Rhone) and Cabernet Sauvignon (mainstay of Bordeaux). Fronton sitting as it does between the two regions, this wine is geographically appropriate, as well as being rather excellent.
The typical Negrette flavours are present here – along with hints of hydrocarbon and blackcurrents from the Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon (40% Négrette, 40% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon). You’ll find hints of liquorice or aniseed and blueberries. The wine is also a deep purple red and carries a hint of vanilla scent from the oak in which it was matured.
Wine-Searcher.com gives one supplier in the UK as Bablake Wines in the West Midlands, where you can get it for around £16.00 per bottle.
It’s absolutely brilliant with beef dishes – I’ve tried it out on steak and kidney and steak and chips. It holds up well in the company of either, without drowning the flavour of the food, and growing and changing on the palate when drunk with food.