As the birthplace of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Tannat, Southwest France is one of the wine world’s most important regions. But dig deeper, as there is so much more to discover in this vast and diverse wine landscape.
A Long History of Vines
Vines have been cultivated ever since the land was known as Gaul. During the time of the Roman conquests, individual communities, many isolated from each other, grew unique varieties that formed a kaleidoscope of vineyards. In 1189, Pope Alexander III consecrated Santiago de Compostela in modern-day Galicia, Spain, prompting a flood of travel. Southwest France became an important passageway between northern Europe and Spain. Numerous wine-producing abbeys and monasteries welcomed the journeyers who, in turn, spread the region’s wines throughout the continent. Southwest France, like everywhere else in Europe, was felled by phylloxera in the late 1800s, but through the resiliency of its people, the region rebounded and emerged stronger than ever.
The Region and Terroir
The area of Southwest France stretches from the Dordogne in the north to the Pyrénées in the south. The Atlantic Ocean creates a natural border to the west, while the high-altitude plateaus of the Massif Central designate the eastern edge of the region. Within these borders reside six sub-regions: The Pyrenean foothills; Gascony; The Garonne basin; The Tarn basin; The Lot valley; and Aveyron. In total, a constellation of 42 name-protected appellations makes up one of the most dynamic wine regions in the world.
The broad swath of Southwest France encompasses an infinite number of soil types. Tertiary sedimentary and alluvial deposits originate from the Aquitaine basin. Plateaus with limestone in the north give unique mineral qualities to the wines from that pocket of the region. Meanwhile, complex geological terrain is found at the Pyrénées foothills in the south.
Given the diversity of the land, numerous climactic influences come into play: oceans, rivers, and mountains all have a hand in the unique attributes of Southwest France’s wines. As a rather humid region, Southwest France’s climate creates favorable conditions for lambrusques (wild vines) and indigenous grape varieties to thrive.
Key Grape Varieties and Styles
Southwest France can lay claim to some of the world’s most important grapes. Cabernet Franc, a parent to both Carménère and Cabernet Sauvignon—not to mention a standout variety in its own right—originated in Southwest France. Malbec, another grape with international acclaim, got its beginnings in Cahors (where it is known as Côt). Tannat is increasingly gaining recognition worldwide, especially in South America. But outside of these marquee names, Southwest France is home to over 300 varieties, 130 of which are indigenous.
With this much diversity in the vineyard, it is no surprise that Southwest France is able to produce endless styles of wine. Along with the aforementioned red grapes, Duras and Fer Servadou, with enticing fruit and peppery notes, show Southwest France’s capacity to delight and surprise red wine drinkers. When it comes to white wines, Colombard and Gros Manseng produce elegant and aromatic blancs. Even that warm-weather favorite, rosé, becomes something completely unique when made from indigenous grapes such as violet-and-licorice-tinged Négrette.
Sweet wines are also a specialty in several of Southwest France’s appellations, and each has a different method for producing these dessert-like sippers. Winemakers in the Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh appellation partially dry their grapes in a process known as passillerage in order to evaporate water and concentrate sugars. Meanwhile, areas near rivers—with their cool, misty mornings—are the perfect environment for botrytis—noble rot—to develop. Loin de L’oeil and Petit Manseng may be the varieties behind any of these complex, sweet wines.
Naturally, there is a sparkling wine for the table, too. Mainly produced in the PDO Gaillac from the Mauzac grape, producers follow the ancestral method of sparkling winemaking, where second fermentation occurs in bottle without the addition of liqueur de tirage to kick off fermentation, and wines are not disgorged. For fans of pét-nat wines, this is an appellation to know.
The large number of indigenous varieties, along with the rich overall diversity of the grapes in the Southwest, constitute a natural reservoir of biodiversity, which is an essential asset in the face of the dual challenges of globalization and climate change.
Of course, a region is nothing without its people. Southwest France is home to 700 wineries, 28 cooperatives, 500 winemakers, and 8,261 grape growers. It is through their dedication and passion that Southwest France continues to be one of the most exciting wine regions in the world.
If you’re ready to taste for yourself, here are 12 of our favorite wines that showcase the diversity—and deliciousness—of Southwest France. Read our reviews and learn more about this exciting region, bottle by bottle.
2022 Wine Enthusiast Reviews
Château Bouscassé 2018(Madiran)
Château Bouscassé 2018(Madiran)A magnificent wine Alain Brumont that is still young. It is deep in dark Tannat flavors and a dense structure, the wine powerful with its black fruits and texture.Editors’ Choice LEARN MORE$25
Plaimont 2019Vignes Préphylloxériques (Saint-Mont)
Plaimont 2019Vignes Préphylloxériques (Saint-Mont)A blend of true 19th century pre-phylloxera Tannat and Pinenc, this impressive wine has weight and dense structure.Cellar Selection LEARN MORE$95
Château de Chambert 2017Grand Vin (Cahors)
Château de Chambert 2017Grand Vin (Cahors)An impressive, wood-aged wine that has rich black fruits and dense and concentrated tannins.LEARN MORE$47
Château de Cabidos 2016 DouxGaston Phoebus Petit Manseng (Comte Tolosan)
Château de Cabidos 2016 DouxGaston Phoebus Petit Manseng (Comte Tolosan)Pure Petit Manseng in its full glory, the wine packs richness and sweetness along with intense, ethereal acidity.Editors’ Choice LEARN MORE$22
Château de Gaudou 2019Grande Lignée (Cahors)
Château de Gaudou 2019Grande Lignée (Cahors)This is a firm wine, its structure still finely intact. It promises plenty, juicy black fruits and tannins ready to soften.Editor’s Choice LEARN MORE$18
Château Lastours 2020Cuvée du Pigeonnier Red (Gaillac)
Château Lastours 2020Cuvée du Pigeonnier Red (Gaillac)Named after the dovecote on the estate, this wine is a serious blend of Braucol, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.Cellar Selection LEARN MORE$48
Domaine Gayrard 2020Loin de L’œil
Domaine Gayrard 2020Loin de L’œilLightly wood aged, this wine, made from Gaillac’s widely planted white grape, has hints of yellow fruits as well as apple and tight citrus.Editors’ Choice LEARN MORE$23
Château Flotis 2019Si Noire Négrette (Fronton)
Château Flotis 2019Si Noire Négrette (Fronton)Just west of Toulouse and almost within the city boundaries, the Fronton appellation produces rich wines from the Négrette grape.LEARN MORE$20
Domaine de Beyssac 2017Essentiel Red (Côtes du Marmandais)
Domaine de Beyssac 2017Essentiel Red (Côtes du Marmandais)A wine dominated by the recently-revived Abouriou, this is perfumed, wood aged and juicy.LEARN MORE$20
Domaine Laurens 2016La Bruyère (Marcillac)
Domaine Laurens 2016La Bruyère (Marcillac)This is a ripe, smoky wine from a small wine region on the edge of the central Massif Central.LEARN MORE$55
Château Labastide Orliac 2020Royal Heritage Red (Brulhois)
Château Labastide Orliac 2020Royal Heritage Red (Brulhois)From a small appellation south of the city of Agen, this wine is a blend of four grapes, including Cabernet Franc and the rare Abouriou.LEARN MORE$40
Domaine Tariquet 2021Chardonnay (Côtes de Gascogne)
Domaine Tariquet 2021Chardonnay (Côtes de Gascogne)The wine is soft and ripe with white fruit flavors that are balanced by acidity.LEARN MORE$16
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Last Updated: May 9, 2023