Welcome to Shelf Stars, The Growler’s cheap wine column in which we discover the best under-$15 bottles in town. This edition of Shelf Stars is brought to you with underwriting support from Central Avenue Liquors.
In a mini-fridge in the basement of our home, my dad would keep bottles of a bargain California white that he’d call “boat wine.” I don’t think he could name the producer or the grape. But that’s the point: “boat wine” is a white that’s so unremarkable yet so refreshing, that it’s great for drinking on a boat from a plastic cup.
His boat wine of choice changed over time, and for a while it was Domaine Uby, a cheeky little white that was about $8 and tasted like Welch’s White Grape juice with one-and-a-half semesters of college. And damn, on a 90-degree day with the relentless sun glancing off the lake, that wine was just perfect.
Uby was my intro to the white wines of the Gascony region of southwest France. I’ve come to learn that just about any bottle from that region will be more-or-less the same: fresh, unfussy, fruit-forward, crowd-pleasing, “boat wine.”
In the world of drinks, Gascony is best known for making Armagnac—the luscious and aromatic brandy. To make a fine brandy, you need white wine grapes that have high levels of acids. The Gascons use varieties like baco, colombard, folle blanche, and ugni blanc—that last one is known as trebbiano in Italy and it’s one of the most widely planted grapes in the world.
But when those grapes don’t go into brandy, they show off their lively acids in simple, refreshing white wine. So that’s your July cheat code: if it says “Cotes de Gascogne” on the label, you’re holding summer in a bottle.
Among the Gascony whites like Uby that I’ve quite enjoyed (and then forgotten about immediately afterward): Mont Gravet ($11), Biscaye Baie ($10), Domaine de Menard ($11), and Domaine de Pouy ($11). This summer I’ve found two new-to-me bottles that I highly recommend:
Domaine Saint-Lannes (Cotes de Gascogne IGP) ($10)
A blend of colombard and gros manseng, it bellows from the glass with floral aromas and flavors of white peach, groundcherry, and lemon zest. A bright acidity keeps it focused. Super crushable.
Le Jaja de Jau Sauvignon Blanc (Cotes de Gascogne IGP) ($11)
Sauvignon blanc is not an Armagnac grape, but they grow a good bit of it in Gascony anyway and it tastes right at home. This wine has generous flavors of citrus and tart pineapple, with a minerally edge that’s signature to sauvignon. Crisp and refreshing.
White Wine from Gascony
For Those Who Like: Pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, vinho verde, sunshine.
Grapes: Baco, colombard, folle blanche, ugni blanc, gros manseng, petit manseng
ABV: Usually 11–12%.
Price Range: $9–12
Find it: In the France aisle, on the lower shelves, usually near the white Bordeaux, sporting the phrase “Cotes de Gascogne”
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