Though this area of France, which lies roughly between the Massif Central and the Pyrenees, is much loved by the British, many of whom have chosen to make it their home, the wines are less well known, rarely making it out of the region of production. Author and expert on the South-West Paul Strang tells us why this corner of France is a wine-lover's paradise and why its wines deserve greater recognition.
One of the attributes that make the South-West so special is the eccentric range of grape varieties, most of which are to be found nowhere else in the world except as supporting varieties. Mauzac, len de l'el, arrufiac, petit courbu, gros and petit manseng, among the whites. Fer servadou (aka mansois, braucol and pinenc according to region), duras, malbec, tannat, egiodola and négrette for the reds. These different grapes provide a kaleidoscope of styles and tastes unequalled anywhere.
In the South-West you can find a wine to suit just about any dish. There is sparkling white Limoux, ranging from brut (bonedry) to doux (gently sweet) to enjoy as an aperitif. The still whites can be bonedry, light and crisp, as is the case with Bergerac and most Côtes de Gascogne and ideal with fish; just as dry but with more fruit in Saint-Mont and richer and with more body in Jurançon. All coming in versions showing more or less oak, or no oak at all.
Rosé wines are made everywhere in the South-West, ranging from the pale beside-the-swimming-pool type for chilled refreshment to accompany amuse-bouches, to quite fat and fruity styles intended to be drunk with a meal.
There are light reds to accompany charcuterie, such as characterful Marcillac, curranty wine which is also ideal with strawberries; flowery red Gaillac to go with cassoulet, a dish which does not call for big hefty reds such as Cahors and Madiran, which are best reserved for roasts, daubes and game; and a whole range of mediumweight reds, again oaked or unoaked.
Sweet whites such as Monbazillac are the classic accompaniment to foie gras, especially when taken after the meat course (as it was in the old days) and thus posing no problem as to choice of red to follow.
There are also real stickies, from Saussignac for example, incomparable with patisseries and the sweetest of fruit desserts and even a red vin doux naturel from Madiran, somewhat after the style of Banyuls, perfect with chocolate.
While researching for my book on the area I was struck again and again by the view expressed to me by growers that wine is above all something to be enjoyed with food, and not as an artproduct of oenologists and professional tasters.
So let's celebrate the return of spring with this local dish and a bottle of something suitable to wash it down with.
Filet de Porc Printanier
Pork with asparagus – a South-West adaptation of a French classic
- 30g butter
- 12/16 button onions, peeled
- 1 pork fillet, cut into medallions
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 150ml dry white wine
- 150ml water
- 4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 300g small new waxy potatoes
- 24 small asparagus heads
- 100ml prune juice
- Salt, pepper
- 4 tablespoons crème fraîche
Melt the butter in a shallow pan with a lid, and cook the onions in it gently without letting them colour. Add the medallions and seal each side without browning. Stir in the flour and allow to cook briefly. Slowly add the wine and water to make a sauce. Add the garlic, cover the pan and simmer slowly for 3/4 hour.
Meanwhile put the potatoes on to steam.
Add the prune juice, seasonings and asparagus heads to the pan and simmer for 1/4 hour. Stir some of the sauce separately into the crème fraîche and add back to the pan. Stir and allow to blend for a few minutes over low heat without boiling. Check for seasoning, add the potatoes and serve all together.
The Society is, of course, on hand to provide the right wine to accompany this dish. If you prefer a white with pork, the sauvignon/chardonnay blend from Domaine de Tariquet would be excellent; alternatively the red Clos La Coutale from Cahors would be equally good.
Paul Strang is the author of South-West France the Wines and Winemakers (University of California Press 2009).