Thursday, November 4, 2010

South West France Illuminated

Top Wine Writers Get Crash Course in Undiscovered Region

New York, NY—October 21, 2010—The wines of France’s South West region have been one of the country’s best-kept secrets for ages, but that may not be true for much longer. On Thursday, October 14th, some of the top food and wine press and trade in the United States were invited by the Interprofession des Vins du Sud Ouest (IVSO) to New York City’s Hotel Gansevoort for a lively panel discussion introducing and illuminating the South West’s vibrant wine culture—and the untapped bounty and value its wines offer U.S. consumers.
The panel discussion, moderated by Edward Deitch, Editor of and Reuters Wine Columnist, was the first of its kind on the wines of South West France. It featured experts on the region from across all aspects of the wine trade, from vineyard to table. Panelists included: Fred Dexheimer, Master Sommelier and Spokesperson for IVSO; Paul Fabre, Managing Director of IVSO; Laurent Audeguin, Research & Development Manager at The French Institute of Vines & Wines (IFV); and Charles Neal, U.S. Importer, Charles Neal Selections.
Fred Dexheimer kicked off the discussion with a primer on the vast diversity of terroirs found amongst the South West region’s wine appellations, stretching a distance of roughly six hours by car from Irouleguy in the far South West corner of the region to Marcillac in the North East. Fred noted how those geographic variations are mirrored in the astounding breadth of wine styles to be found across South West France, from dry reds and whites to sweet and sparkling offerings, as well as in the wide array of grape varietals—some of them extremely rare—that are the tools of the South West winemaker’s trade. Laurent Audeguin, whose research at the IFV has been instrumental in unearthing the region’s rich vinological history, then linked those terroirs with the grapes each is most renowned for—such as Madiran and Saint Mont with Tannat, Cahors with Malbec, Fronton with Negrette and Côtes de Gascogne with Colombard and Ugni Blanc. In all, Laurent said, about 150 different indigenous grape varieties, or 25% of the total in all of France, hail from the South West, making it a potential hotbed of exploration for wine lovers. “It’s amazing to find that the South West of France is, indeed, the source of world-renowned varietals such as Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cot (Malbec),” said Audeguin.

Such diversity, the region’s winemakers have discovered, does not preclude the need for a unified marketing message, such as the one now provided by the IVSO, explained Paul Fabre. Formed two years ago, the IVSO has become the “voice” of the region, demystifying the South West and extolling its virtues of variety, value and opportunity for discovery to consumers in international markets. “Formerly the South West was thought of as confusing to consumers, but that’s beginning to change,” pointed out South West importer and enthusiast, Charles Neal. “It needed to be simplified so people could relate to it.”
Now that the South West has become more user-friendly, the region’s excellent value-for-money ratio is also becoming apparent. “I’ve had great bottles from the South West that sell for as little as $9,” Dexheimer said. That accessibility, coupled with the eagerness of U.S. wine consumers—especially the millennial generation—to dive into new wine experiences such as the South West provides with its highly varied varietals and terroir, points the way forward for this up-and-coming region.
Here's how a few of the panel experts summed up the event:
"With this event we were trying above all to communicate two main points: that the South West of France is a unified region—the fourth-largest wine producing region in France—and that within that region are produced wines for every occasion." Paul Fabre, Managing Director, IVSO
"I think it was eye-opening for many of the attendees of the discussion to become acquainted with the wealth of indigenous grapes the South West has to offer, which is one of the factors that sets it apart from other regions." Laurent Audeguin, Research & Development Manager at IFV
"Considering this was the first time the South West has been the subject of such a discussion—looked at from all angles of the wine business—I think people came away with a much better understanding of a wine region really ripe for discovery."
Edward Deitch, Editor, and wine columnist for Reuters.

What impresses me the most (besides the amazing natural beauty of the region, especially when you are closer to the Pyrenees) is the variety of quality wines that the Southwest can produce. Dry white and red wines, sparkling wines, luscious dessert wines... you name it, they got it.
And, as somebody else pointed out, the vast majority of the wines are great values!


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