The wines of the Southwest include some of the greatest and most illustrious ever produced, as well as hundreds of brands never seen beyond the bounds of their domains. Bordeaux wines are readily available in the United States and are the classic accompaniments to many dishes in this book. For an excellent treatment of the great whites and reds of Bordeaux, I refer readers to The Wines of Bordeaux: Vintages and Tasting Notes 1952–2003 by Clive Coates.
Madiran, an intense, solid, inky, and very tannic wine, is often the choice on the Gascon table. Made from Tannat grapes, often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Madiran keeps well and improves markedly with age. It has recently become more widely available in the American market and pairs wonderfully with the rich, hearty food described in this book. When a Madiran is unavailable, try a hearty Syrah from the Rhône Valley, such as Cornas or Hermitage, or an earthy old-vines Zinfandel from Amador County in California.
I have a special affection for the intensely aromatic local white wine, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh (the old name for Madiran is Vic-Bilh), which I drank every night during my annual research sojourns at the Hôtel de France in Auch, to accompany my evening bowl of garbure. Unfortunately for Americans, almost all Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh is consumed locally. Try a white wine from Rueda, Spain, a Riesling from Australia’s Clare Valley, or an Alsace Gewürztraminer with your garbure.
Cahors, the famous “black wine” of the Quercy made mostly from the Malbec grape (known locally as Auxerrois) blended with Merlot, is wonderful for picnics. It is very tannic and creates a compelling, intense contrast with goat cheeses, rillettes, and other charcuterie. As they age, Cahors wines become acceptable mates for rich meat dishes, mushroom dishes, game, and fowl. If you can’t find a Cahors, ask your wine merchant to order one, but while you’re waiting, try an oak-aged Malbec from Argentina.
The region of the Béarn produces a soft, velvety, sweet wine called Jurançon, famous for its yellow color. Made from grapes so overripe that they are almost raisins, Jurançon is a good match for rillettes and cheeses. The legend, which everyone who lives around the area will be quick to tell you, is that when Henri IV was christened, his lips were rubbed with garlic and moistened with a few drops of this wine. If you can’t find Jurançon, try a Coteaux du Layon from the Loire Valley, a semidry Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York State, or a Moscatel de Setúbal from Portugal.
In the Landes, there is a special appreciation of the aromatic, very dry white Tursan, made from the local grape, known as “baroque, ” which has the reputation of being able to “knock you to your knees.” And there is a curious and barely known Landais light red, smelling of violets and tasting “meaty, ” that is grown in sandy soil, such as the vin de table from the Domaine de Mallecare. If you are looking for a dry white with a knockout punch, try a white Condrieu from the Rhône Valley, made from the Viognier grape.
Sweet red wines are rare in the Southwest. A good one from the Languedoc-Roussillon region is the Banyuls produced at Domaine de la Rectorie, which enhances anything made with dark chocolate. It is also excellent with blue cheese. It is hard to replace Banyuls, but try a Recioto della Valpolicella from Veneto, Italy, a Mavrodaphne of Patras from Greece, or Quady “Elysium” from California.
If you travel in the region, you’ll find numerous good local wines served with the local cuisine. The vineyards of the Périgord are at least as old as those of Bordeaux, though far less known.
The best among the reds are the Bergeracs, many of which are light in body. Look for the Domaine du Haut Pécharmant, which ages beautifully. The white sweet Monbazillac from the Dordogne is called the “Sauternes of the poor;” look for the Château Ladesvignes and try it with foie gras or Home-Cured Duck Ham (pages 82–84). On the left bank of the Garonne, on the hillsides west of Agen, you’ll find some of the new “star” red wines of the Southwest, notably the Bordeaux-style Buzet (formerly Côtes de Buzet).
The Basques in Southwest France produce reds and rosés called Irouléguy, which are full-bodied and acceptable with the local food. Irouléguy is rarely available in export markets, but try a Spanish rosé from the Basque province of Navarra, or the most famous rosé in the world, Tavel, from the southern Rhône Valley, as a stand-in.
When a recipe calls for a red table wine, I usually cook with a food-friendly wine such as a Syrah or a California Pinot Noir. The wine you cook with does not have to be as expensive as the wine you drink, but a good basic rule is never to cook with a wine you wouldn’t happily drink. Any inferior wine won’t get better as it reduces, concentrating its flavor, during cooking; it will only get worse. Another guideline: “Wine in the sauce, wine in the glass.” For example, if you braise with Syrah, serve Syrah with the dish, “bridging” or “echoing” the food and the wine.