The Beautiful South Part Deux – Languedoc rocks!

8 Jun

Having quashed our misconceptions that there’s little quality wine  being made in Languedoc, the WineWanderers were invited by the Foncalieu cooperative to get down to southwestern France and see for themselves some great drops which are being produced in the area.

First, we had to get over some more preconceptions – that every label has its own winemaker, and that every grower of top-quality grapes makes their own wine.   Foncalieu is a giant cooperative, bringing 1200 growers together over 5000 diverse hectares stretching from Languedoc east to the Rhone Valley and north into Gascony.    The business grew out of Languedoc’s very first co-op, established by 128 winegrowers in 1901.

There seems to be a single winemaker – and she had not yet arrived during our stay in Corbieres to replace another female winemaker whose effots have   won accolades for the group.   It’s a fairly astonishing achievement that all four of the co-op’s Grands Vins celebrating the area’s winegrowing heritage were awarded more than 90 points by the redoubtable – and influential – US wine critic Robert Parker when vintages were submitted for the first time in 2012.

Much of the credit must go to the resident oenologist Gabriel Ruetsch, who brings much expertise from his native stomping-ground, the Mendoza wine country of Argentina.  He has been responsible for establishing strict wine management specifications and vinification plans requiring  an understanding of the very different terroirs within the region.

We focussed on the Languedoc lines, starting with entry-level Le Versant, most of which goes to restaurants, but luckily for us is also stocked by our local Secret Cellar.

We were less impressed by the pinot noir and viognier which are UK best-sellers  than the rose – what a stylish drop for the price, full of South of France joie de vivre – and the merlot, which Ruetsch is particularly proud of, as it’s a grape hard to make a good wine from in this territory.   In the similarly-priced Enseduna range, we enjoyed the 100 per cent petit verdot, a grape reduced to blending status in Bordeaux; well-made, it can certainly stand on its own.

We stayed at one of Foncalieu’s latest acquisitions, the Chateau Haut-Gleon in the Corbieres countryside.   But its gites, swimming pool and stony vineyards were less of a thrill than its elegant wines, which command top-end prices.   Overcoming one more misconception – that a rose has to be pale to be elegant – we really enjoyed Chateau Haut-Gleon, a  strawberry-coloured pink made of 80% syran and just 20% of that south of France rose staple, grenache.  It was dry, full-bodied and joyous, and we also enjoyed the 2008 red, comprising 45% syrah, 30% grenache and 25% carignan from old vines.

Of the four Grands Vins we particularly enjoyed Le Lien, a Minervois whose 2011 vintage is rich and ready to drink, unlike the higher-scoring La Lumiere, a Corbieres which will need another couple of years to come into its prime.  Both are 100 per cent syrah, but quite different in style.

Back home, we were keen to see what the high street had to offer in quality Languedoc, being mostly supermarket wine shoppers ourselves.  We found elegance from Waitrose in both the Chateau de Caraguilhes Corbieres 2012 and the 2011 Maris Minervois, both around £10 per bottle.  But Marks and Spencer have really bagged themselves a star in Domaine de Fontseque, a heady blend of 40% carignan, 30% grenache noir, 20& syrah and 10% mourvedre, worth every penny of £10.99 to complement a weekend dinner.

Once again, as the sun made a reappearance and fish got on to the menu, we were reminded that  the south also produces phenomenal whites.  We loved both M&S’s Chateau de Flaugergues and Waitroses’ Domaine Begude, a rich but fresh chardonnay from the Limoux near Carcassonne.    The Flaugergues is 80% Rolle, otherwise known as vermentino, a grape which does so well in Languedoc, especially when combined as here with grenache blanc. In fact grenache in all its colours – watch out for more grenache gris appearing in blends – is the great glory of the Beautiful South and reason alone to try a drop or three of Languedoc now summer is finally here.

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