This time last year The Wine Wanderers were in the Languedoc discovering the wines of astounding quality which are rebuilding the region’s reputation. It’s largely down to a handful of visionaries who have persuaded growers to concentrate on quality rather than the quantity for which the region used to be known. These pioneers are taking risks, producing wines which command more than £20 a bottle in the UK and have to stand competition with the much better-known names from Bordeaux and Burgundy, many of which don’t justify their hefty price tag.
Today’s Languedoc vintners are producing some amazing syrahs in particular and doing gorgeous things with grenache – reds, whites and roses, on their own or in blends – and also with lesser-known varietals including grenache gris, roussanne and vermentino. They are making good carignan from grapes grown on old vines, giving more prominence to mourvedre and also, surprisingly to the Wanderers, producing good chardonnay and pinot noir more associated with northern climes. We were reminded of our 2014 adventures when tasting one spectacular wine after another from Domaines Paul Mas, a family wine estate spanning four generations, which deserve more recognition in the UK.
Jean-Claude Mas has been blazing a quality trail since taking the helm of the family firm in 2000, growing the estate from 85 to 550 acres and contracting with 80 outside growers counted on for a superior crop. It’s a similar pattern to Foncalieu, which we visited last year – not a family firm but a large cooperative in which a couple of great winemakers work their magic on grapes from many growers who concentrate all their efforts on careful cultivation.
We’ve tasted astounding special occasion drops recently from the flagship Chateau Paul Mas range of grand cru appellations, of which the gorgeous Belluguette, a blend of vermentino, grenache, roussanne and viognier is particularly sumptuous. It has enough body to stand up to strong tastes like asparagus, whose delicate mineral taste is killed by red wine, and is available at Majestic. Of the reds, we savoured the Clos de Savignac, a s50% mourvedre with 30% syrah and 20% grenache, and Clos de Mures, which is almost pure syrah.
Drinkers will not be disappointed by the Paul Mas Estate range, described as “everyday luxury” wines, some of which are available at Waitrose Cellar for around £8.99 a bottle. Particularly nice was the GSM – a typically southern blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre in almost equal quantities. And coming back to premium labels, the GSM by Astelia, a vineyard acquired by Mas in 2014, is out of this world, while their chardonnay is another perfect partner for asparagus and perhaps some indulgent lobster mac cheese.
We also remebered the Languedoc while revisiting Terroirs, a London restaurant known for promoting natural wines, the phenomenon which first brought us to the region, where this style of growing is becoming prevalent. This time at Terroirs, however, we were turned on to a superb Beaujolais Villages blanc made from unfiltered chardonnay by Remi and Laurence Dufaitre, new kids on that particular block. A lovely partner to white asparagus with clams and the delicate pork and pistachio pate de campagne the restaurant has made for the delectation of charcuterie loverss every day since it opened.