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Nestled between the Massif Central and Pyrenees mountain ranges, and from the banks of the Garonne to the beaches of the Basque country, Southwest France is a kaleidoscope of 42 appellations, 120 grape varieties, and myriad permutations of terroir. Within this dizzying diversity however, lies countless values and a liquid history stretching back two millennia.
Yet despite being well-known as the birthplace of some of the world’s most popular Vitis vinifera varieties—Cabernet Franc and Malbec among them—in major markets like New York City and Los Angeles, the wines of the Southwest still fly under the radar in other U.S. cities. This fall, Wines of Southwest France is aiming to change that.
From September 19 to 22, 2022, a group of top Southwest France top producers will visit Atlanta; Raleigh, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; and Austin, Texas, in its first-ever U.S. tour—and all members of the beverage trade are invited to join them. SevenFifty Daily caught up with sommelier André Compeyre to learn more about the upcoming tour and discover what makes the region so unique.
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SevenFifty Daily: What differentiates the Southwest from other winemaking regions in France?
André Compeyre: It’s a widely diverse area, and the birthplace of renowned and unique varieties, including Cabernet Franc. Many people don’t know it, but there are 120 different indigenous grape cultivars from the Southwest.
The DNA of the Southwest is the reflection of our strong historical identity which blends a richness of its heritage, culture of bien-vivre, and a diversity of terroirs and people into one. Unlike other areas, we have a huge diversity of terroirs and the wines provide a very high degree of value for money.
What can participants who attend the upcoming Wines of Southwest France U.S. tour expect?
We can’t wait to share our passion for the producers and products of the Southwest region, which is rich and diverse on so many points from gastronomy and culture to history and modern technology. I think of the region as a whole like a huge puzzle where every single appellation is different from its neighbors, and we are really hoping to showcase those differences and the value of each unique site throughout the tour.
We are bringing a range of producers with us across the U.S. Each of them will lead a master class, and there will be an opportunity for guests to meet and taste with every producer. Really, this event is the first of its kind to showcase the rich history of the Southwest while demonstrating the value and wild food-friendliness of our wines in a single place.
What wines might attendees be surprised to discover from the Southwest?
On the tour, each producer will come with a selection of PDO and PGI wines: Vinovalie will showcase a range of IGP Comté Tolosan; Plaimont will represent AOP Saint Mont; Vigouroux will present Cahors AOP and Côtes du Lot IGP; Brumont will showcase the Madiran AOP and Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh AOP; Lionel Osmin et Cie will present the Côtes de Gascogne IGP; Arbeau will be the ambassador of Fronton AOP.
There’s a saying that the Southwest is powerful in spirit, and I think people are often surprised to discover the power and nuance of the wines. The producers from the Southwest—like Arbeau, Plaimont, Brumont, Lionel Osmin & Cie, Vinovalie and Vigouroux—have so much character, but also all the charm and joy of a beautiful, historic region. From The Three Musketeers to the Camino de Santiago, our wines have as much character and history in the bottle as these works and traditions.
Why should buyers be considering the wines from Southwest for their lists?
The Southwest region is a goldmine for value, which shouldn’t be confused with cheap wines. While many will cost you between $15 and $25 per bottle, some $50 to $75 wines from the Southwest can easily compete with fancy Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines that are three times the price.
There are also a lot of opportunities across appellations where Southwest wines offer equivalents to grape varieties that American drinkers love and enjoy on a regular basis. There are great white wines in different styles from the Côtes de Gascogne; Fronton is doing great rosé north of Toulouse. As for red, the most classic would be Malbec from Cahors—especially because American consumers know and love Malbec. You could easily find a way to do a full wine list with the wines from the Southwest.
What do wine professionals forget about the Southwest region?
This area can seem very complicated because of its diversity, and you need to be educated on the region to understand its nuances and the value it presents—it’s almost like the first time new sommeliers try to discover wines from Italy or Germany. The benefit of presenting unknown or lesser known wines is you differentiate yourself with your customer, many of whom are becoming more interested in discovery and getting the best quality wines for their money.
In retail or wholesale, you can increase your margins with wines like those from the Southwest. For example, it’s rare in New York City restaurants or bars to be able to have a glass of wine for less than $10. With Southwest wines, you can find options that are $120 per case, and will get a discount of 10 percent on multiple case drops to pour the wines by the glass. I’ll let you do the math! Retailers will most likely apply the same formula, meaning customers who discovered this wine from Southwest and paid $10 for the discovery in a restaurant can enjoy it again for $15 in a store—everyone wins.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Drinks professionals are invited to register for the Wines of Southwest France U.S. tour here.
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