I recently asked a bunch of people who care about wine, “Were you banished to a deserted island and forced to choose one world winemaking region whose wines you could drink, what would it be?”

Surprisingly, a distinct majority chose the Loire Valley in France. And I get that; I might even agree with it. I wrote a bit about the area recently, and will again in the near future.

The desert-island format of the question elicits an answer such as the Loire, where the sheer number of different – and commonly loved – grapes for white, pink, red and sparkling wines is unparalleled. It’s easy that way: I’m on a desert island, but there’s such a variety of wines, I barely had to choose!

There’s something to be said for an answer that comes from a different perspective – a right-now thrill for something one didn’t know too much about before, where winemaking has been going on for an exceptionally long time but where it’s only very recently that winemakers have begun to market their unique products outside the region itself.

From this perspective, let’s consider France’s “southwest.” It’s an imprecise geographical category, but includes roughly 40,000 acres of vineyards (the Loire has 185,000) bordered by Bordeaux, the Pyrenees mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Dordogne, Lot, Tarn and Garonne rivers course through the southwest, creating its myriad climatalogical, geological and cultural zones, and therefore its enological diversity.


Here’s how Rosemont Market’s wine-program director and Yarmouth store manager Dan Roche (full-disclosure: We’re colleagues and friends) puts it: “From where else recently have you tasted so many wines that are not trying to be something else? Wines that are totally comfortable being weird, honest, straightforward and just plain good?

“Yeah, they don’t quite fit in and yeah, they have names no one has heard of, but man, they in the end are the most fun to be around, because they are comfortable with themselves, and that allows you (the drinker) to be comfortable.”

Names no one has heard of? Here are some tips of icebergs: Marcillac, Gaillac, Cotes du Millau, Bergerac, Jurancon, Saussignac – regions home to grapes such as Fer Servadou, Petit and Gros Manseng, Clairette, Tannat, Ugni Blanc. Each subregion a world unto itself, each grape a new realm to discover.

Some people wrote me that on a deserted island, they’re going to want wines that go well with fish. I’d rather have wines that go well with loneliness, boredom and ennui; wines that keep me tethered to the world I left behind, and by their sheer distinctiveness hopeful for the world to come.

These are those wines. As Dan implies, they’re not the “greatest wines in the world,” whatever that means. (Dan’s runner-up was Piemonte, parent to several of what might actually be the greatest wines in the world though you’d have to wait 20 years until your Barolos and Barbarescos were ready, and let’s hope a ship picks you off the island before then.)

Instead, these wines are just terrific friends. They’re vital, they have “somewhereness” in spades, their language is intensely emotional. Alone on a paltry beach or at home with those you adore, they’ll keep you in love with the world for years.


The ones below are brought in by Wine Traditions (distributed in Maine by Wicked), a French-only importer focusing on small, family-run producers. Their deep knowledge of southwest France is a reason to trust their presence on a back label, if you come to like any of their wines at all.

Domaine Castera Jurancon Sec 2010, $15: From 100 percent Gros Manseng grapes, this 14 percent alcohol obelisk of a white wine is imposing, large, muscular and elegant. Flavors of ripe apple and honeycomb are firmed up by a finish both steely and wooly. Jurancon can make exciting off-dry wines, but this mouthfilling, bone-dry expression is a natural for well-considered meals involving mushrooms, lobster, cream and chicken.

Domaine des Terrisses Gaillac Blanc Sec 2010, $12: The majority grape here is Len de L’ehl, combined with Mauzac and 10 percent Sauvignon Blanc. Honestly, at first I rejected this, feeling it was overly perfumed, vanilla-gingery and exotic (kind of desert-island-style, I guess). Dan disagrees vehemently, though, and I’m inclined to recant my rejection, because it’s just so distinctive and fun, and that lean Sauv Blanc aspect saves it from dipping over the edge.

Martinolles Cremant de Limoux Brut 2006, $17: A fascinating sparkling wine, made traditionally by a process that predates Champagne by 100 years. The profile is briny and mineral-rich, balancing olive and tart-apple notes. Think of oysters, garlic and herbs.

Domaine du Cros Marcillac 2009, $13: If you’re drawn to Dolcetto or Cru Beaujolais, you’ll love this wine made from 100 percent Fer Servadou. Bright Bing cherries jump quick out of the gate, reined by a high-toned, grippy texture. It will be one of my top-three grill wines this summer, and is also ideal alongside simple platters of salumi and tomato salads.

Clos Fardet Madiran 2005, $18: Check out that vintage. It takes five years for the rough-n-tumble Tannat grape to mellow out enough so that you can hear what it has to say. This is supremely old-school wine – open-top wooden vats are home to indigenous-yeast fermentation with minimal sulphur – and less than 350 cases are made. It’s rip-snortin’ though not unbalanced, and made for the next time you tackle a wild beast with your bare hands.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at soulofwine.appel@gmail.com


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