On Wednesday, I attended a tasting at Vinopolis organised by Wine4Trade, a French group helping French producers market and export their wines abroad. The tasting gathered producers from South West France, most without representation in the UK. I am not an importer, and my interest in attending the tasting did not rest in its wines but in meeting a few people. Thus, I tasted briefly. I visited only four tables, and the quality of two red and one white wines tasted that day exposed a forward-thinking region working at producing good, modern wines that do not sacrifice regional character to the altar of sales and marketing.
The first of the red wines, Côtes d'Olt 2005, Cahors, from Vinovalie, was floral, mineral and fresh with juicy, supple fruit. It is a bit of a crowd pleaser but the finish stays clear of heavy and often sweet and over-extracted fruit found in New World wines of the same price. For a Cahors, a region with a reputation for blockbuster wines with tannins to match, this wine has impeccably well behaved tannins. It has spent eight months in American oak, which definitely seems to suit Malbec very well and clearly indicates Vinovalie's willingness to part with tradition and adapt their production to today's market. Vinovalie regroups four co-operatives from the South West who have joined forces to fight for a place on today's extremely competitive wine markets. With the Côtes d'Olt, it seems it will achieve what it has set out to do.
The two other wines come from Domaine de Cransac, in the Fronton appellation. The Renaissance blanc 2006, vin de pays Comté Tolosan showed the same determination as the Côte d'Olt in establishing itself as a wine of today. It is made of a 100% Sauvignon blanc, all of which was matured in oak barrels (% of new oak unknown). It retains Sauvignon typicity because of its distinct asparagus character, but the oak and the overripe fruit give it a fullness that is original. It differs in character from California's sweet and often confected Fumé Blanc as it is dry, mineral, with well-integrated oak. Many tasters were coming to retaste this most original wine, perhaps in indication that the wine will soon be available on the UK market. Domaine de Cransac's Tradition 2005, Fronton, a fruity, unoaked blend of Négrette (60%) and Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon (each 20%) is another example of a very fruity (unoaked) and approachable wine, floral, rubbery and a tad flirtatious. Its older brother, the Renaissance red 2004, Fronton, is a more conentrated and structured version of the the Tradition, with an exceptionally silky texture.
It appears that with a little willingness and open-mindedness from its vignerons, the South West has a serious chance of making a name for itself outside of France.