Cahors is the land of the full bodied Malbec (or, as it is locally known, “Côt” or “Auxerrois”). Winemakers have taken advantage of this unique terroir since 50BC, and it isn’t difficult to understand why. The Atlantic coast is 210km away, providing the region with hot summers and wet winters, but the warmth of the Mediterranean, which is the same distance away, also influences the terroir. The River Lot, which runs through the region, also plays its part, tempering the occasional severe frost that comes over from the Massif Central. Summer in Cahors is warmer that Bordeaux, making it easier for grapes to reach full phenolic ripeness. That is good news for the Malbec itself, but it is also vital for the tannin-rich Tannat, which, along with Merlot, can make up to 30 per cent of the blend. The rainfall is also far lower here than in regions closer to the Atlantic, which means that there is less chance of diseased crops, and therefore less need to use sprays to prevent against diseases. This relative dryness has other effects on the vines, too. They are forced to dig deep into the earth to reach water, forming strong root networks and increasing the amount of sugar and phenolic compounds found in the grapes.
There are more than 4,000 hectares of vineyards in Cahors, and each hectare can hold 4,000 vines. Aside from Malbec, you can also find here several whites and rosés with the name Vin de Pays du Lot.
Vineyards have been prominent in Gaillac since the days of the Roman occupation, or perhaps earlier. Production was halted by the Barbarians, but blossomed once more thanks to the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of St-Michel-de-Gaillac in the 10th Century.
This region, to the north-east of Toulouse, is famous for its variety. It is perhaps best known for its reds – think Bordeaux with added spicy flavours. But it can also boast diverse and distinctive whites, two varieties of sparkling wines (perhaps older than Champagne) and a small number of rosés.
Traditional local grape varieties Braucol/Fer and Duras are used to make the red wines. They are often blended with Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. For the whites, Ondenc, Len de l'el and Mauzac are used, alongside Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. These blends lead to the unique flavours which give the region its character.
There are three main terroirs to Gaillac, each with distinct characteristics. The soil of the right bank of the River Tarn tends to feature clay, molasse, sand and gravel. In the north, the Plateau Cordais has calcareous and granitic soils, perfect for fruity whites and delicate reds. The left bank of the Tarn sees soil containing pebbles, gravel, sand and clay, excellent conditions to create red wines with some depth.
The climate of the region is mixed, enjoying both the heat sweeping over from the Mediterranean and the ocean humidity of Bordeaux. Another bonus is the warm, dry wind coming across from eastern Central Africa.
Overlooked by the majestic Pyrenees Mountains and swept by the cooling winds of the Atlantic, Jurançon is the perfect environment for producing white wines, and is particularly well known for its sweet whites. The region is steeped in history, with a winemaking tradition dating back to the 14th Century, making it perhaps the world’s oldest appellation. Legend has it that the wines are also responsible for King Henri IV’s various triumphs, after the young monarch was baptised with it in the late 16th Century. Jurançon today produces around 4.5 million bottles across 750 hectares.
The region’s wines contain a high level of Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng, and come in three main styles, separated by their natural levels of sweetness: Jurançon Sec (dry, with an aroma of passion fruit), Jurançon (sweet, with a mango aroma) and Jurançon Vendanges Tardives (sweeter, with a banana aroma). For the Jurançon style, the grapes are only harvested once they have reached a sugar concentration of 247g per litre. For Jurançon Vendanges Tardives, the grapes are allowed to dry on the vines even longer, further increasing their sugar concentration. They can legally only be harvested from the beginning of November, but are often only picked as late as December.
The soil in the region is largely of clay and sand, except at higher altitudes where the clay makes way for dry limestone. Some of the lower vineyards, closer to the river, have soil enriched with sedimentary rocks, known locally as poudingues (after English “puddings”, which have a similar shape).
Jurançon’s location at the feet of the Pyrenees means that warm, dry winds blow over the vineyards in the autumn months. The Atlantic, around 100km to the west, also moderates the temperature to some extent. It has a higher than average rainfall for the south of France, at around 1200mm, and more moisture in the air than regions further inland.