The Cotes de Gascogne is a culinary epicenter. It also happens to be the home of the Armagnac, my favorite region for brandy. Much as I wish I were sipping some at the moment, it is the white wines from this area that are on my mind today.
Although the wines from the southwest of France, whites in particular, are generally overlooked, they represent some of the best values from a country that also gives us Champagne and Montrachet. The Cotes de Gascogne in particular has a host of inexpensive white wines that might not be supercomplex, but are perfect for spring sipping.
Ugni blanc, colombard and gros manseng are the most popular local varietals, but semillon, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay often find their way into the mix. The whites are usually stainless-steel fermented and do not undergo malolactic fermentation, so they are crisp and clean.
In spite of its 2,000-year-old winemaking tradition, the wines from the Cotes de Gascogne are still a mystery to many wine drinkers in the Bay Area. Here are three that are a perfect introduction.
Chateau Pellehaut Bidelere Côtes de Gascogne, Harmony Blanc, 2010: One of the largest producers in the appellation, Pellehaut did not start bottling its own wine until the late ’90s, instead selling it off in bulk to other wine merchants. Owned by the Beraut family, the young sons are now handling the day-to-day operations. Winemaker Mathieu Beraut actually worked at Au Bon Climat during one harvest. A blend of 40 percent ugni blanc, 20 percent gros manseng, 20 percent colombard, 15 percent chardonnay and 5 percent sauvignon blanc, this is a fresh, crisp, medium-bodied wine with white flowers, citrus and apple fruit. Available at Blackwells, San Francisco Wine Trading Company, Weimax. Suggested retail: $10
Domaine La Hitaire Les Tours Cotes de Gascogne, 2010: Brothers Armin and Remy Grassa purchased this property in 1999. No strangers to winemaking, their father, Yves, is a longtime grower in the region. Made from the big three — ugni blanc, colombard and gros manseng — this is a delicious bottling with an array of citrus, minerals and floral overtones. Available at The Wine House. Suggested retail: $11
Chateau Fitere, La Cadette de Fitere, 2009: Château Fitère was a major player in the establishment of the red wine Madiran appellation in 1948. The family has owned the property since 1760, when Louis the Beloved reigned. Composed of 80 percent colombard, 10 percent sauvignon blanc and 10 percent gros manseng, it has subtle melon and Meyer lemon tones with a heavy dose of mineral on the finish. Available at Falleti’s, Village Market and K&L. Suggested retail: $11
Pamela Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.