The Beautiful South – rebuilding the rep for fine wine in undervalued Languedoc

26 May

The WineWanderers were invited to Languedoc-Roussillon to see what’s new in the land of syrah, grenache and carignan, not to mention a fascinating selection of white grapes rarely seen outside the region.

 

It’s a massive area, stretching west along the coast and hilly hinterland from Nimes to the Spanish border, and for years it’s been fighting to live down a bad rep which was the legacy of a load of cheap, badly-made wine grown on the flats.   These days, however, it is home to thousands of more mindful growers who realise the future lies in quality rather than quantity, and several inspired wine-makers making some of the most exciting and under-valued French wine on the market.

 

More accessible than Bordeaux and Burgundy, whose reds require more time – and cost – to achieve decent drinking potential, the wines of the beautiful south are surprising for the fresh, zingy whites they produce as well as the rich reds and gorgeous golden roses for which the South of France is famous.
Cotes de Provence rose remains one of the most joyous and consistently great-value drops on the planet – it’s annoying that Brits have to pay £7.99 for a bottle which costs around €5 on its home turf.     But for quite a bit less – £6 a bottle on promotion – we found that same joy in Sainsburys Winemaker’s Selection Languedoc Rose – also a blend of grenache, cinsault and syrah, albeit in different proportions.   Their Taste The Difference  Languedoc White was every bit as fresh and fragrant, thanks to a high proportion of grenache blanc.

 

A truly revelationary Languedoc white which came at us even before we left London was Mas Coutelou’s Pm, an astonishingly rich blend of grenache gris, muscat and sauvignon gris grown so close to the sands around Montpellier, you can almost taste and smell the Med before it gets to your lips.   It’s one of the increasing number of natural wines grown in the Languedoc with practically no added sulphur.   While this can affect consistency from one vintage to another, that’s never a problem with Pm, whose tiny production of just 1500 bottles inevitably sells out, in spite of the hefty £17+ per bottle price tag.  Roberson Wines has what’s left of the 2012.

 

Pm was the white surprise served up by Bastien, the young Languedoc-born sommelier at Hibiscus, a Michelin-starred London restaurant with an excellent list, including many natural wines.   The red was Le Pigeonnier from Terrasse d’Elise, a surprisingly smooth 100 per cent carignan.   Usually saved for blends, quaffable wines made entirely of carignan are a big ask, but not if they are made with low-yielding grapes from old vines, which mellow and become less tough as they approach their half-century.  Winemaker Xavier Braujou comes at his vines in the mountains behind Montpellier from the perspective of his early days as a woodcutter, spending years observing their behaviour in different soils and climates.   This is a stonking wine available in the UK from Lea&Sandeman at £16.50 per bottle, case price.

 

Final surprises before we got as far as Foncalieu Wines, the largest cooperative in Languedoc, came on the doorstep itself, in Carcassonne, where the cooperative has its HQ.    Baptiste, the young sommelier at the Barbacane restaurant in the Hotel de la Cite, served up In Fine, a rich, fragrant mixture of grenache blanc and grenache gris, to partner jellied veal’s head with little cubes of goose liver pate, peas and carrots.   This wonderful white from Cave de l’Abbe Rous is a Collioure, made on the doorstep of the Spanish border.
From the Haute Vallee de l’Aude, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Baptiste served up a  surprisingly good  Domaine de Mouscaillo pinot noir to go with the Bresse chicken with the morels.   Who knew they could make wonderful pinot noir in an area perceived to be too warm and too flat(get up into the hills and it’s neither(?    As we were to find out at Foncalieu,  an even greater challenge for the region is to make a decent Merlot.   More to come about our adventures on the ground – but meanwhile, take a closer look at Languedoc when combing the wine shelves for an interesting drop at a fair price.

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