The Landes, Gascogne and the Pays Basque
This area is home to some of the most dynamic producers in the Southwest. The best of the wines, particularly those from Madiran, are powerful and robust. The vineyards went into decline after the First World War--Madiran all but disappeared--but are now enjoying a renaissance.
One of the region's recent success stories is the Cotes de Gascogne vin de pays, which is now sold throughout northern Europe. It was chiefly created to find an outlet for the excess production resulting from the decline in sales of the local brandy, Armagnac. As a result, most of the production is white. Colombard is the principal variety but ugni blanc, chardonnay and gros manseng are also used. Generally, the vin de pays is light and citric, and made to be drunk young.
The nearby Tursan VDQS appellation has 1,137 acres (460 ha) under plantation. About 65 percent of production is red or rose; the white is made from baroque, which is found only in Tursan. The principal producer is the Tursan Cooperative in Geaune. The presence of Michel Guerard, the famous French chef, at Chateau de Bachen, has brought the appellation welcome publicity.
To the southeast lie Madiran (3,460 acres [1,400 ha]), a red-wine appellation, and the much smaller dry- and sweet-wine appellation of Pacherenc (395 acres [160 ha]). The chief red grape here is the appropriately named tannat, a decidedly robust and tannic variety capable of producing complex, powerful wines; these need around a decade of aging to show their best and respond well to long-aging in oak. Somewhat oddly, the appellation laws officially prohibit wines made from 100 percent tannat, insisting on the addition of some cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon or fer servadou. Recently, however, the top local producers, led by Alain Brumont, have ignored the regulations and made their best cuvees wholly from tannat. (The wines are nevertheless awarded appellation status--such is Brumont's reputation that the INAO would only look foolish if it refused to classify the wine.) Permitted varieties for Pacherenc include arrufiac, petit and gros manseng, bordelais, sauvignon and semillon. Greater emphasis is now being placed on the local varieties, and some remarkable sweet wines are being made by growers who delay picking until December.
Cotes de St-Mont (2,500 acres [1,000 ha]) is often described as a junior Madiran because the red is made mainly from tannat and the appellation lies immediately to the north. However, these reds are considerably softer and need much less time to age. There is also a white made from local varieties, and a small amount of rose. The Plaimont Cooperative is the chief producer.
The best Jurancon is one of the country's most elegant and complex whites, but as there are only (2,500 acres [1,000 ha]) of vineyards, it is not as widely known as it deserves to be. Fortunately, interest in the appellation is growing, especially in France. In the nineteenth century, there were some 7,400 acres (3,000 ha) here, but by the 1950s this had fallen to 740 acres (300 ha). Despite suitable land being available and a growing demand for Jurancon, the vineyards are unlikely to expand because EU restrictions prevent further planting.
Jurancon is made from three varieties: petit and gros manseng, and petit courbu. Traditionally, it was a sweet wine made from late-harvested grapes, mainly petit manseng, picked in November and December with the sweetness coming from passerillage rather than botrytis (neither the climate nor the thick skin of petit manseng favors the development of noble rot); but a dry wine, Jurancon sec, was created during the difficult years in the middle of the nineteenth century. Gros manseng is the chief variety used and it now accounts for 75 percent of the production. Partly as a result of its high level of acidity, both styles of Jurancon can age well. Unfortunately, as a result of the appellation's decline during the twentieth century, few old vintages are available for tasting.
The small Pyrenean appellation of Irouleguy went into a dramatic decline following the arrival of phylloxera in 1912 and the outbreak of the First World War, dwindling from nearly 1,240 acres (500 ha) at the beginning of the century to 740 acres (300 ha) by 1947, and then to just 160 acres (65 ha) in 1980. The last 20 years have seen a considerable revival and there are now around 500 acres (200 ha) in production, although the appellation has a potential area of 3,030 acres (1,226 ha). The reds and roses are made from cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and tannat. They tend to be less muscular versions of Madiran and show their best after several years aging. The whites, which have just been reintroduced following a gap of some 40 years, are made from petit courbu and gros and petit manseng, and are usually crisp and lemony.
From "Encyclopedia of Wine"
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