Gascogne: Of coops and co-ops


A quick intro to the wines of Gascogne…

The Côtes de Gascogne, south of Bordeaux, is a sprawling region. There are no main roads, so it’s easy to get lost; this really is La France profonde. Driving from one winery to the next, I reach for the music selection, dithering between Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and the soundtrack to Deliverance. Either would be fitting, especially if played on the accordion.

The hills roll like the uneven pastry lid of a homemade apple pie. There is a rich gastronomic tradition here: truffles, duck, foie gras. It can feel more like a season than a place, a fifth phase between summer and autumn. The traditional drink of choice is Armagnac, the flavoursome local brandy. Over the past few decades, however, sales have been declining, so many growers now divert their grapes into wine production instead. There is a smattering of small independent producers, but a handful of huge estates and co-operative wineries rule the roost.

They use a gaggle of white grape varieties, such as the rather plain old Armagnac grapes Colombard, Folle Blanche and Ugni Blanc; the flavoursome Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng; and the more recognisable Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. For the little red and rosé they produce, it’s usually Tannat alongside Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. For a refreshing aperitif, try local speciality Floc de Gascogne, a bottled blend of Armagnac and fresh grape juice. They make some good sweet wines too.

Grape vines prefer poor, infertile soils. This fecund corner of France makes for rather cosseted grapes, so don’t expect anything too grand or serious. Both whites and reds are light in style, low in alcohol, and best drunk as young as possible. The best offer thirst-quenching freshness and good value for money. If you’re looking for well-made, authentic wines for less than £10 a bottle, Côtes de Gascogne is a smart place to look.


La Chapelle Rouge 2012 (From Vineyards Direct, £7.65)

Black cherry and plum aromas. Light to medium-bodied with a gentle, soft texture and low alcohol. Simple stuff, but authentic and balanced.

Plaimont Producteurs ‘Grand Héron’ 2013 (Majestic, £7.99, or £6.79 for 2 at the time of writing)

Light to medium-bodied with fresh grapefruit and cut grass flavours. Zingy, balanced and thirst quenching. Like a leaner version of a Sauvignon Blanc.

Domaine de Pellehaut ‘Ampelomeryx’ 2011 (Booths, £9.39)

Zingy grapefruit aroma with a toasty edge. Concentrated, tangy citrus flavour that ends rich, full and rounded. Very drinkable, with a long lasting finish.

First published in Living France magazine.