The principle grape varieties of France | Part 3: The South West

south west franceWhat better time to brush up on your southern grape varieties than in time for the current iDealwine fixed-price sale, Wines from the South?

The South West is vast, diverse and scattered. While some of the northern reaches brush shoulders with the vineyards of Bordeaux, the most southerly appellations are perched high up in the Pyrenees. You’ll find a long standing viticultural tradition in this region that produces wines from indigenous and exciting grape varieties. It was once considered a serious rival of its neighbour Bordeaux and to this day there are some impressive and highly ambitious wines being produced with their own distinct identity.

Here are some of the most prolific grape varieties cultivated in this melting pot region:

Ugni Blanc (white skin, white juice)

An old variety of Italian origin, Ugni Blanc (known as Trebbiano in Italy) has found a happy home in the Mediterranean climate of the South West. It is used to produce eau de vie, such as Cognac and Armagnac.

Dominant aromas: citrus, quince and flowers.

Characteristics: produces very pale whites. Often blended with Colombard as its natural acidity provides freshness.

Key appellations: IGP Côtes de Gascogne

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Colombard (white skin, white juice)

The grape variety par excellence for French eau de vie but also used with Ugni Blanc to produce dry whites in Gers.

Dominant aromas: citrus (lemon, grapefruit), exotic fruit, white flowers and box wood.

Characteristics: produces dry, aromatic whites with slight colour. Light in alcohol and perfumed. To be drunk young.

Key appellations: IGP Côtes de Gascogne

Grenache Blanc (white skin, white juice)

Related to the red grape Grenache, this variety is also cultivated in the Rhône.

Dominant aromas: very ripe fruit (white fruit, exotic fruit, citrus), flowers, honey and, sometimes, aromatic plants.

Characteristics: Sweet wines produces from this varietal have a powerful mouth that is perfumed and warm. The wines develop with age and gain complex and persistent aromas such as nuts, caramel, sweet spices, citrus peel and roasted notes.

Key appellations: Maury, Rivesaltes

Notable producers: Domaine Mas Amiel (Maury), Domaine Mas Delmas (Rivesaltes), Domaine des Schistes(Rivesaltes), Château Villargeil (Rivesaltes).

Mauzac (white skin, white juice)

A variety emblematic of the Gaillac AOC and Blanquette de Limoux (possibly the oldest known sparkling wine in France).

Dominant aromas (dry whites): apple, pear, dried fruit and flowers.

Dominant aromas (sweet wines): very ripe or even candied fruit (quince, apricot, exotic fruit), honey, sweet spices.

Dominant aromas (sparkling wines): apple and pear.


Dry whites produced from this variety have a lightly fatty and rounded texture accentuated by a light acidity. The finish often has a soft bitterness.

Sweet wines have a golden colour and an unctuous texture. They are powerfully aromatic, allowing them to be barrelled for long periods of time. They have an impressive ageing capacity and will only gain complexity (spices and jam notes tend to develop).

Sparkling wines from this variety are vinified in the traditional Gaillacoise method. They are characterised by their light effervescence; an aromatic freshness and their supple mouth feel. You’ll find dry, medium dry and sweet varieties.

Key appellations: Gaillac, Blanquette-de-Limoux, Limoux Méthode Ancestrale.

Fer (red skin, red juice)

Fer (also known as Fer Servadou, Pinenc, Mansois and several other synonyms) is a variety that is found almost exclusively in the South West.

Dominant aromas (red wines): perfumed aromas of currants, forest fruit (raspberry, cherry, blackcurrant) and green pepper (similar profile to Cabernet Sauvignon). It also has spiced and woody notes as well as liquorice.

Dominant aromas (rosé wines): red fruit aromas, spices and vegetal aromas.


Red wines produced from this grape variety are light in alcohol and have marked (often astringent tannins) which can make them hardy. They often need a few years in the cellar to soften.

This variety is often blended with Tannat or Cabernet to make rosé. It provides colour and fruit aromas.

Key appellations: Brulhois, Gaillac, Marcillac.

Malbec (red skin, red juice)

A native variety, it often appears under the name “Côt” and is the dominant variety in Cahors.

Dominant aromas: black fruits (blackberry, blackcurrant), liquorice and menthol.

Characteristics: a varietal that produces wines with intense colour that turn black with age. Full-bodied with plenty of tannic structure and a marked acidity. With age, the ripe fruit aromas win out over the austerity often found in young examples, giving way to a complex and refined bouquet.

Key appellations: Cahors, IGP Comté-Tolosan

Notable producers: Domaine Cosse-MaisonneuveChâteau du CèdreClos TriguedinasChâteau Lagrezette

Tannat (red skin, red juice)

The national grape variety of Uruguay, it’s origins are from the Pyrenees…

Dominant aromas (red wines): black fruit (cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant) and often red fruit when the grapes are particularly ripe. There are also notes of forest floor, liquorice and menthol.

Dominant aromas (rosé wines): red fruit and vegetal aromas. Floral and spiced notes.


Red wines produced from this variety are intensely dark in colour, often black but lighten with age. They show marked acidity and are recognisable by their full-bodied and complex structure as well as by their opulence.

This variety is often blended with Merlot, Fer or Malbec to make rosé wines. Tannat provides the colour but also, depending on the winemaker’s desire can make complex wines or a fresher, lighter style.

Key appellations: Madiran, Irouléguy, Saint-Mont.

Notable producers: Domaine Arretxea (Irouléguy), Château Montus (Madiran), Château Bouscassé (Madiran)

Negrette (red skin, red juice)

Planted almost exclusively in the South West, this variety is the king of the Fronton appellation.

Dominant aromas: floral (violets, peony), raspberry, strawberry, prune, liquorice and spices.

Characteristics: intensely aromatic and coloured red wines that are rounded in the mouth. They are supple and have low acidity and weak tannic structure. Not prone to ageing well, they are best drunk young.

Key appellations: Fronton

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Other things to read on the iDealwine blog:

The principle grape varieties of France | Part 1: Bordeaux

The principle grape varieties of France | Part 3: the South West

The 2016 vintage in France (part 1)