Near the Spanish border, this wine region with a view of the Pyrenees has been producing white wines – both dry and sweet – for many years. The good news? The arrival of young growers who are taking up the baton with style – like Lucie and Maxime Salharang, who started from scratch and are now already well on their way to greatness. The proof is in their vineyards... and in the glass.
The Southwest: What's in a name?
When referring to the great French wine regions, wine specialists and amateurs alike use the blanket term of "Southwest," roughly located somewhere between Bordeaux, Languedoc and Provence. This very imprecise, generic name covers a host of small wine areas, each with its own individual character in terms of geographical location, terroir, climate and size. For example, what common ground can there be between: Gaillac, which produces all three colors of wines from old local varieties; Cahors, which remains monochrome red with its star variety, Malbec; Fronton and its unique local grape, known as Négrette; or Bergerac, which produces a wide array of reds and whites from the driest to the richest dessert wines? We head for the foothills of the Pyrenees in search of one of the most fascinating appellations of this great Southwest region.
A vineyard at the peak
A stone's throw from Pau, Jurançon's parcels of vines nestle among the undulations of a landscape that the word "hilly" can only begin to describe. This is an area boasting frequent stunning backdrops courtesy of the Pyrenees. Here, the wine is white... and nothing but! Not only well-balanced sweet wines, on which the Jurançon region has built its reputation, but also equally remarkable dry wines. For many years, a number of historic estates with highly talented growers, such as Souch, Camin Larredya and Cauhapé, have been acting as standard-bearers for the region by producing marvelous wines. In recent years, they have been joined by a new young generation with a strong commitment to viticultural practices that protect the soil, the vines and the environment.
Just the two of us...
In the Clos Larrouyat in Gan, Lucie and Maxime Salharang have been a prominent part of this revival. This couple, although responsible for scarcely three hectares of land, nurtures the ambition of getting the very most out of this small area, rather than growing at the expense of precision and pleasure. Maxime planted his first vines in 2011 and bottled his first cuvée in 2014 – while still continuing to work at Souch. Since then, the estate – ideally situated at a height of 340 meters – has gone from strength to strength to become one of the region's truly bankable stars. Lucie now devotes her full time to the property, and she and Maxime do everything together. And yes, there's plenty to do! Especially among the vines, where rigorous organic and biodynamic methods are employed – not least because this corner of France receives its fair share of rain. "Just the two of us"... well, almost, because it takes a few more people than that to harvest the Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Camaralet grapes, and a number of small Ouessant sheep to act as eco-lawnmowers in the vineyards in winter. In the cellar, there are no additional inputs or cosmetics; the key goal, after all, is to do nothing that would compromise the expression of a unique terroir that is 240 million years old. In the glass, the result is a highly mineral stamp on all the wines from the estate, which are sold to the restaurant trade, around a hundred French wine merchants, and a dozen or so export countries!
Taste France Magazine’s selection
Clos Larrouyat - Jurançon sec – "Météore" 2021
The Petit Manseng grown on this estate's terroir is lower in alcohol than elsewhere. In this blend with Gros Manseng, the result is a bright, lively white wine with a deliciously mouth-watering mineral finish!
Clos Larrouyat - Jurançon sec – "Comète" 2020
More ample and round than "Météore," this "Comète" readily asserts itself as a gourmet white wine, while not lacking anything in terms of freshness. Camaralet is an old local variety of which only a handful of hectares remain, and constitutes 25% of the blend, along with Petit Manseng.
Clos Larrouyat – Jurançon – "Phoenix" 2021
When tasting a sweet white, there is often a fear of heaviness. But just one sip of this wine is enough to reassure us of its amazing balance. Floral aromas, notes of slightly candied lemon and mint intermingle, followed by a very clean, highly saline finish. The 2020 vintage is also a particular favorite.