It was in the winter of 1992 that Claudie and Bruno Bilancini (a designer and oenologist couple by trade) had the extraordinary luck of being able to lease one of the top sites in Monbazillac, the Cru de Tirecul (one of the ancient premier cru sites in the AOC.) Even though the vineyard and small cave were in disrepair, they cared for it as if it were their own, and in 1997, realized their dream of owning the property. Now, Tirecul la Graviere is recognized as the top property of the AOC. The fame of Chateau Tirecul la Graviere has spread far and wide over the last several years. Most notably, Robert Parker has awarded the property two 100 point scores and compared it with Sauterne’s Chateau d’Yquem. With good acidity and a solid backbone, these wines can last for decades under optimal storage conditions, a rarity for wines from this area of Southwest France. These wines are magical, defining examples of the best that Monbazillac can offer and more.
Offering the perfect balance of quality and value, Southwest, France is a recognized appellation that encompasses all wine regions in France’s southwestern corner (except for Bordeaux and Cognac, which merit their very own). Two of the more famous subregions here are Cahors, known for its Malbec, and Madiran, home of the robust Tannat grape. Bordeaux Blends are also popular red wines of the Southwest; Petit Manseng is the regions’s star autochthonous white variety.
Apart from the classics, we find many regional gems of different styles.
Late harvest wines are probably the easiest to understand. Grapes are picked so late that the sugars build up and residual sugar remains after the fermentation process. Ice wine, a style founded in Germany and there referred to as eiswein, is an extreme late harvest wine, produced from grapes frozen on the vine, and pressed while still frozen, resulting in a higher concentration of sugar. It is becoming a specialty of Canada as well, where it takes on the English name of ice wine.
Vin Santo, literally “holy wine,” is a Tuscan sweet wine made from drying the local white grapes Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia in the winery and not pressing until somewhere between November and March.