Some things about the Languedoc just don’t seem very French at all. Frontier lands, Spanish culinary influence, Gypsy lore, uncontrolled wine production, and more. In a recent visit to the edge of the region’s northwest Mediterannean shoreline, Camargue, we reveled in almost unlimited sightings of wild white horse and pink flamingo from the comfort of a vessel I joyously navigated between Aigues-Mortes and Beziers, stopping only to refill our litre wine jugs at local co-ops and our refrigerator at every-couple-of-day markets. Yet, two languages are spoken here serving as irrefutable evidence the region belongs to France. One of those languages is French. The other is spoken by its wines that communicate their Southern French terrior in distinctive and accessible style.
I have been enjoying the bounty of values from Languedoc over the last 15 years, watching modern wine making technique and knowing wine makers slowly spread across a region once known as the fountain that filled a pipeline and ocean with vin ordinaire. Now, for $10-$20 a bottle, you can capture the Mediterannean sea breeze, garrigue aromas of a vast countryside, and sun baked fruits and spices that fill its outdoor markets. These wines are not shy, but the best of them can be pretty and expressive without the burden of over ripeness or extraction. And, for fans of big flavors and wines, there are excellent single varietal and blended products rising out of the 725,000 acres under vine that will please your palate as well.
This “wild west” of French wine growing regions is hard at work getting itself under control, with 22 AOCs now established. Still, the AOCs only produce 10% of the 400,000,000 gallons of wine produced in the Languedoc each year. So the region continues to be dominated by traditional country wine styles, some of which can be quite good and fun to drink. Others, quite rustic. Key red grape varietals found in the AOCs and elsewhere include Mourvedre,Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache Noir,and Carignan and the white varietals span Muscat, Piquepoul, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Rolle.
I felt pretty lucky receiving an invitation from the Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Languedoc, along with some thirty other writers and members of the trade, to the recent Languedoc Ambassadors Tour in Boston. It provided an organized opportunity to immerse, and to update my perspective on the region’s progress. The walk-around tasting had one unfortunate cloud over it. A volcanic one. Many of the winemakers that were most likely anxious to leave their farms and wineries for a chance to pour and represent their wines on a major American city tour, were grounded. I felt bad they missed their chance to get away, but still, the wines were in evidence and there were enough intelligent pourers to connect the dots for us. I tasted sparkling wines, roses, whites, and reds. The only thing really missing were sweet Muscats that I remember reveling in during a visit to several wineries in Muscat de Frontignan.
The writing here at WineZag has successfully managed to sidestep any form of rating system to date, but in a tasting of this scope, I think it’s readers (you) will find it easier to access my experience with a relative rating system of 1-5 stars. Relative means one of the wines compared to the others, and not compared to the overall global standard for all fine wines in general. To give further context, on a 100 point scale, the highest point score I gave to any one wine in the tasting was 91 points and the lowest was 83 points. So the five stars will escort you along that range of rating impressions and hopefully guide you to the better wines. The top wines are worth seeking out as profound expressions of the region offering immense pleasure. Even wines within a single rating level differ stylistically, so it is worth paying attention to the brief note on each wine. Also included in the notes are AOCs, cepages, and a notation of style if it is not a red wine. Three of the top four wines are under $15, so pay attention! And don’t stop at the top, based on descriptions the middle pack wines have something to offer different palates. Enjoy these wines that could only come from France’s Languedoc region.
Chateau Paul Mas Clos des Mures 2007, Coteuax du Languedoc, 83% Syrah/12% Grenache/5% Mourvedre,$18: Nose takes some coaxing, floral, currant, dark berry aromas finally. Rich, flavorful, highly extracted wine with signifiant tannin. Will require big food and should be able to tolerate lengthy cellaring. Not for the weak of heart or anti-flavor group.
Domaine de 2 Anes Premiers Pas 2007, Corbieres, 70% Carignan/30% Grenache Noir $14: Pure clean purple color, there is a significant level of bret infused barnyard aromas on the nose. You have to like this or stay away. Exotic red fruits and flowers, rich mouth coating, loaded with rosemary and thyme flavors and aromas, this is a powerhouse wine and absolutely not for the “bret beware” crowd
Chateau de Paraza Cuvee Speciale 2007, Minervois, 40% Syrah/40% Grenache/20% Mourvedre $12: Light purple color, excellent rich and bright berry aromas combine with spice. This is a pretty wine with a great degree of elegance among so many bruisers. A supple mouthfeel with great acidity
Domaine Rimbert Les Travers de Marceau 2007, Saint Chinian, 35% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, 5% Mourvedre $14: Bright cherry nose and sweet floral aromas, almost Gamay-like and mistakable for Moulin-a-Vent, lovely spices and minerality. A pretty and amazingly elegant wine that will work well with a wide range of food. A beauty among beasts.
SCEA Chateau de Lanyre 2008, Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint Loup (Rosé), 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 10% Cinsault $15-$19: Wonderfully expressive deep nose of red berries baking in the Mediterranean sun, rich satisfying flavors of rasberry and spice, round mouthfeel with excellent acidity and a long lasting finish. This is a serious, serious Rosé wine worth finding.
Laurent Miquel Saga Pegot 2006, Faugeres, 100% Syrah, $23: Deep dark purple color, blackberry mixing with strawberry or some kind of red fruit, peppery spice, a medium weight, decent, and simply unoffensive Syrah.
Domaine de Nizas Rouge 2006, Languedoc, 60% Syrah, 35% Mourvedre, 5% Grenache Noir, $15: Deep purple color, nose dominated by sweet oak and herbal spices blending along with dark berry fruit. Strong tannins and significant alcohol on the finish. A rich big wine slightly overwhelmed by heat and wood.
Mas du Soleilla Les Chailles 2007, Coteaux du Languedoc La Clape, 90% Old Grenache Noir, 10% Syrah $30: Dirty and mirky coloration, sweet candy-like oak on the nose, extremely rich and highly extracted. A big bruiser that would not be too friendly alongside most foods for now. And, a bit pricey for what it is.
Mas Belles Eaux Les Coteaux 2005, Languedoc, 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, $20: Pretty, clean, medium density purple color with an intriguing and exotic nose of earth, garrigue, and pepper that literally pours out of the glass. Velvety mouthfeel with anise flavors, but finishes with seriously hard tannins. The aromas and flavors alone would bring this wine into the five star group, but the excessive tannins make it a harder wine to enjoy with food today. Maybe some years in the cellar will tone things down and make for a spectacular wine.
Domaines Felines Jourdan 2008, Picpoul de Pinet, 100% Piquepoul (white), $13: Distinct pear aromas and crisp floral scent lead to a medium weight wine whose acidity is dominant, attractive, lasting, and very food friendly. An amazing shellfish wine and very strong value.
Mas Saint Laurent 2006, Picpoul de Pinet, 100% Piquepoul (white) $16: Light floral nose with fatter mouthfeel. Combination of nice richness and good acid structure. A really fine Oyster wine to sip alongside the sea at lunch. A note here is that this was an older vintage of this wine and I suspect it was more vibrant and alive with better structure two years back.
Antech-Limoux Grande Réserve 2007, Blanquette de Limoux (sparkling white), 90% Mauzac, 5% Chardonnay, 5% Chenin Blanc $17: Crisp apple flavors along with steady small bubbles, extremely light, fresh wine that evaporates on the palate like cotton candy might, an easy drinking and simple sparkler
Castelmaure Col des Vents 2007, Corbieres, 50% Carignan, 35% Grenache, 15% Syrah $10: Earthy barnyard aromas dominate the nose and garrigue notes float into the background. It is a pretty wine with cherry dominated flavor finishing with just a touch too much heat and tannic bite.
Domaine du Grand Crés Cuvée Classique 2005, Corbieres, 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Cinsault $14: Restrained strawberry and red fruit nose, medium weight, overwhelming heat and tannin.
L’Ostal Cazes 2004, Minervois La Liviniere, 65% Syrah, 13% Carignan, 12% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre $35: Pepper, anise, and a slight vegetal tinge on the nose, decent weight and mouthfeel, lacking complexity but carrying heavy tannins.
Domaine Saint Pierre Cuvée Céline S 2007, Corbieres, 40% Syrah, 30% renache, 30% Carignan $15: Tight nose, simple black cherry aroma, straightforward and noticeably hollow and empty on the attack and palate, with pronounced alcoholic heat on the finish.
Cave de Roquebrun Baron d’Aupenac 2006, Saint -Chinian Roquebrun, 80% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache $35: Dark black purple color, full herbal crush in the mouth, a smooth attack followed by hard tannins, but something sweet and offputting results in ultimate letdown