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South West France

The South West (or Sud-Ouest) is a relatively large territorial zone of France, incorporating the administrative regions of Aquitaine, Limousin and Midi-Pyrenees. In terms of the French wine map, however, the Sud-Ouest region is a little less clear-cut, as it excludes Bordeaux – a wine region so prolific that it is effectively a zone in its own right.

There is a long and interesting history associated with the wines of the Sud-Ouest, punctuated by complex relationships. The local rivers play an essential role, as they were the main trade routes for moving wines from traditional areas such as Cahors, Bergerac, Buzet and Gaillac to their markets. The last trading post before the wines left for the lucrative markets of Britain was Bordeaux, a wine-producing port town. The Bordelais businessmen rightly saw the transiting wines as competition for their own and took strong measures to ensure their financial security.

The result is the French wine map we know today, with Bordeaux brightly highlighted and the remaining south-western wine regions struggling to get recognition for their diverse, characterful wines. This history is also explains why the Bordeaux grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are now three of the most-famous grape varieties in the world, while traditional varieties of the South West, such as Fer Servadou, Len de l'El and Tannat, are almost unheard of.

The soils, climates and topography of the South West are as wide-ranging as its wines. The presence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea mean that much of the region has a maritime climate, but there are inland areas which make use of the drier, hotter summers created by their more continental climate. Rivers such as the Garonne, Dordogne, Lot and Tarn bring alluvial soils types (clay, sand, gravel) to much of the region, while the foothills of the Pyrenees and the plateaux below offer a variety of stone types and altitudes.

The region's wine portfolio, meanwhile, includes sweet wines from Jurançon; tannic, full-blooded reds from Cahors and Madiran; sparkling wines from Gaillac; and dry whites produced from a wide range of different grape varieties.

Local wine producers are now more commercially focused than in recent years and are using this diversity to attract adventurous modern wine consumers. Although Bordeaux still casts a significant commercial shadow, there is no longer a dependence on the port as a trade route, leaving the wines of the South West of France free to gain international recognition on their own merits.