Southwest France does not refer to a coherent wine region, rather it is a disparate collection of wine regions in the southwestern quadrant of France that are not part of Bordeaux. Some, like the Côtes de Duras and the Côtes de Marmandais, can be characterized as Bordeaux-adjacent, both in their geography and in their style. But the majority truly have their own identity, and Southwest France as a category cannot be thought of as anything other than purely practical. Beyond just wine, Southwest France lacks a unifying geographical or political theme.
If one were forced to generalize, one could say the whole of the Southwest is, on average, a land of gentle temperatures, without too many extremes. Winter snow is rare throughout. Summers tend to be warm or even quite hot, followed by sunny autumns that are crucial for ripening.
Much of the regions fall into the Aquitaine basin, where the rivers drain into the Gironde estuary near Bordeaux. Climatic influences come from both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, with the relative amount of each depending on the region’s position; the influence of mountain ranges also plays a large part.
Starting furthest east, the wine regions of the Aveyron abut the Massif Central, and are very much influenced by the cold air coming off that mountain range. The most famous wines from this area are the fer servadou of Marcillac grown in iron-rich soils.
Around the city of Toulouse, along the Tarn and Garonne rivers, are regions such as Gaillac and Fronton, where the Mediterranean influence is most pronounced. Hot, sunny summers combine with a wealth of indigenous grape varieties (duras, mauzac, prunelart, négrette, and many more) to create distinctive wines in a wide variety of styles.
Further north is the storied appellation of Cahors, where cot grows in gravelly soils along the deep bends of the Lot River. Closer to Bordeaux we find the Bergeracois, Duras, and Marmandais, where grapes and styles tend to resemble their famous neighbor.
About 150km south of Bordeaux, on the edge of the Aquitaine basin, is the area of Madiran, reputed for its powerful and rustic tannat wines.
The remaining areas of Jurançon and Irouléguy are implanted in the foothills of the Pyrénées. Jurançon is known for its sweet wines, produced without botrytis. This is possible due to its famously warm and sunny autumns and especially, the warm wind from the south called the Foehn that allows the grapes to hang on the vines without rotting into December.
Finally, in the French Basque country, right by the Spanish border, the small appellation of Irouléguy produces red wines based on the tannat variety and, increasingly, enchanting whites based on grape varieties shared with Jurançon.