South West France is, according to The Wine Gang's Anthony Rose, part of La France Profonde - a dark and mysterious region.
To me, it evokes Cyrano de Bergerac's proud Gascon heritage and is a sort of French Balkans - a place of strong foods, simmering historical tensions and intense passions.
Comptoir Gascon, Anthony gave us both a literal and metaphorical flavour of the regional identities within South West France - 16 PDOs (AOCs), 12 PGIs (VdPs) and around 20% exports except Gascony with 75%.
PGI Cotes de Gascogne
The Domaine de Maubet 2011 (Oxford Wine Company, POA), mostly Colombard but with Ugni Blanc, Gros Mansend and Sauvignon, had a smokey, spicy nose with mineral, herbaceous and elderflower aromas. The palate shows crisp, rounded gooseberry and some spice. Well made, it is a good early drinker.
The Domaine de Bordes 2011 (CA Rookes, £6.66) was a similar blend, but less aromatic on the nose and more leesy, with a zesty, refreshing palate of sweet pear fruit and leesiness.
PDO St Mont
The Tesco Finest St Mont (Tesco, £6.64) made from Pyrennean varieties, Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Arrufiac was neutral on the nose with a touch of grapefruit and zest. The palate is citrussy and zesty with a persistent finish. Well made, I found it a little dull and uncharacterful.
The Plaimont Le Faite (£14.99 Adnams) is mainly Gros Manseng with some Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu. A deeper golden colour in the glass, it has a salty tang and aromas of dry straw or candied peel with apricot and tropical fruit.
Late harvested, it concentrated and has a honeyed botrytis-esque palate of mango and apricot with a persistent, mineral, leesy finish.
Domaine d'Escausses 2010 (£14.49 Les Caves de Pyrene) is a roughly equal blend of Sauvignon, Mauzac and Muscadelle. Aged in oak with battonage, Anthony described this as a Graves-style white with the oaky character present but not dominant.
It has creamy, nutty spice on the nose and a creamy, leesy, buttery palate with crisp, fresh tropical acidity. There is pleasant oak on the finish with a touch of spice. Weighty and complex, it needs to accompany food.
Domaine le Roc, La Saignee 2011 (Les Caves de Pyrene, POA) is a rose from mainly Negrette with Syrah and Cab Franc.
A deep translucent red, it is the colour of cranberry juice. On the nose there are violets, wild flowers, and something herbal or pine resin, with spicy liquorice hints and bubblegum on the palate.
A full-bodied palate shows sweet red berries, savouriness and spice.
Overall, fairly OK but not my thing.
Chateau Bouissel 2009 (£9, Waitrose, M&S) is 50% Negrette with the rest Syrah, Cab and Cot.
Blackcurrant, tar and mintiness on the nose, minty cassis on the palate and lots of grip on the finish. Also a touch of oxidation - or lack of freshness, 2009 being a very hot year.
Overall, I did not enjoy this one.
Domaine de Pialentou, Les Gentilles Pierres 2006 (£8.75, The Wine Society) is a real mixture of grapes, with equal-ish proportions of Braucol, Syrah, Merlot and Cab.
The nose shows spice, cassis and earthiness, whilst the palate has a creamy texture, herbaceous smokiness and grainy tannins with a grippy slightly astringent finish.
The combination of an herbaceous palate and the grippy finish led some people to consider it somewhat Portuguese in style. In any case, this was very good and for me the best of the reds.
Chateau Aydie 2009 (Waitrose, POA) is 100% Tannat and had been previously decanted to soften the tannins.
Described by Anthony as Barolo-esque, it had a nose of raspberries and floral violets. The palate is supple with good grip and it feels elegant, but lacks fruit.
This wine did not work for me - subjected to modern techniques of micro-oxygenation to soften the tannins, the softness felt artificial and unconvincing - like tenderised steak or a facelifted aging actress.
Much better, I thought, was the wine next to it in the brochure but which was not included in the tasting - Domaine Berthoumieu, which I have reviewed earlier courtesy of Vinopic.
PDO Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh
We finished with a luscious sticky; Prelude a L'Hernival 2010 (Cave de Crouseilles POA) is 60% Petit Manseng, 40% Petit Courbu and is bright gold in the glass.
With an aromatic, botrytised nose of marmalade, overripe peach and nectarine and curiously, ground almonds, it has a complex buttery palate with peach, nectarine and candied exotic fruit, orange and apricot, a touch of spicy oak and a fresh acidity.
Very well-balanced and very delicious - my favourite wine of the tasting.
My favourite wine overall was the sticky and of the dry wines, I found the whites to be the most interesting generally.
White: Domaine d'Escausses for its food-friendly, gently-oaked weightiness.
Red: Domaine de Pialentou, Les Gentilles Pierres for its individualism, balance and texture. Or the Domaine Berthoumieu.
Anyone interested in trying out some wines from this region may like to know that Anthony concluded his talk by mentioning that Comptoir Gascon has 91 wines from South West France on tasting at lunchtimes - even better, they are free to sample.
Anthony Rose - http://www.anthonyrosewine.com/
The Wine Gang - http://www.thewinegang.com/
South West France Wines - http://southwestfrancewines.com/
Comptoir Gascon - http://www.comptoirgascon.com/