In the foothills of the Pyrenees in France's southwest corner, residents have been producing wines since at least 800 b.c. The best known is madiran, a red wine made predominately from the tannat grape. Though tannat's tannins can be hard to tame, many winemakers today produce softer madirans that can be drank relatively young. Château de Crouseilles Madiran 2008 ($16) has a blackberry flavor and a clean, dry finish. Another nicely balanced madiran is made by Producteurs de Plaimont, a local cooperative, and sold under the name Plénitude Madiran 2005 ($30). Some wonderful, often oakaged madirans are made by Château Peyros; their Greenwich 43N Madiran ($17) has an earthy depth and subtle spiciness. Madirans are tailor-made for the rich food of the region, including duck confit and cassoulet. One of Gascony's most beloved white wines, produced in the same 12-mile-wide range of hills as madiran, is pacherenc du vic-bilh. Though bright, dry versions are made, most pacherencs are late-harvest sweet wines, made from grapes vine-ripened to a raisinlike intensity. The deep golden pacherenc de la St-Sylvestre is made from grapes harvested on or just before New Year's Eve and is hard to find stateside. In 2011, southwest France gained anew appellation: St-Mont. St-Mont Château de Sabazan 2004 ($26) is one of its tan-nat-cabernet sauvignon blends, with spicy black fruit flavors and a fresh finish that pairs well with just about anything.
Read David McAninch's story about visiting Southwestern France for the New Year's Eve wine harvest and festival, First Night »