For reasons both known and unknown, the range of French wine grape varieties is notably smaller than Italy’s or even Portugal’s, and this is in a country that is bigger than both of the latter two nations put together. So when old, local French varieties appear in small, obscure appellations, it gets me interested in what has enabled them to resist the encroachment of more famous and marketable Gallic vines from near and far.
So that brings us to Fronton, an appellation just up-river on the Garonne, a few miles from the ancient and beautiful city of Toulouse. Though a bit of white wine made from Mauzac, another local gem of a variety in its own right, Fronton is primarily a red wine region, and Negrette is its signature variety. Thought to be descendent of a Cypriot grape brought back to the area by Crusaders, Fronton is the only significant plantation of Negrette anywhere in the world. As the name implies, Negrette produces small, very black berry bunches, that unfortunately are susceptible to a fair amount of vine diseases. But Fronton’s very hot and dry summers, cold winters, periodic strong Mediterranean winds, and exceptionally poor alluvial soils, all seem to have a uniquely salubrious effect on Negrette, and this unique terroir is likely the principal reason why a vine as fussy and disease-prone as Negrette exists and even thrives only here.
Negrette must make up 50%-70% of a Fronton rouge blend, and this particular cuvee` is 50% Negrette, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 10% Malbec, and these varieties, in addition to Fer Servadou, all typically used to thin the blend. And no, that was not a typo. I tapped out “thin” with reference to Cab, Syrah, Malbec, and Fer because Negrette is MONSTROUS. In a good way. It has a unique, inky color, and comes across as a sort of mid-point between Tannat and Mourvedre with an additional crisp brightness and fresh fruit character not possessed by either.
Dinner was: a light cream of carrot, shallot, and orange soup flavored with cheese rinds and pancetta, and then a main course of garlicky lamb meatballs with thyme, marjoram, and mint in a Port roux-based light cream sauce with classically gratineed cauliflower on the side.
Chateau de Bouissel Fronton Rouge 2009
Completely opaque, crimson/purple/black color. Brooding, minerally nose of fresh blackberry and black currant fruit, grape jelly, wet earth, briar wood, red flowers, raw wool, cloves and cumin. In the mouth the wine is powerful, deep, rich, chunky, and dense, but in no way thick or clumsy, with stiff, dry, and peppery tannins, and a pleasantly rustic acidity that textures big flavors of prune butter, blueberry, myrtle, molasses, black licorice, and dark chocolate. Muscular, slightly bitter kirsch and caramel finish.