By Giovanni Cambizaca
Burgundy, Bordeaux, the valleys of the Loire and the Rhone, these are some of the most famous French wine regions, but France’s more obscure vineyards can also produce excellent wines.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region produces vast amounts of wine, and although much of it is forgettable, there are some great bottles to be found among the ruins. It’s an area with a long history – vineyards have been here since the fifth century B.C – and recently, expert winemakers who have been priced out of Bordeaux and Burgundy have been setting up further south, turning the region into one of the hottest new prospects. So today, let’s leave our wine comfort zone, and explore the path less trodden.
An early advocate of southwestern wines is Juan Sánchez, a Cuban-American who owns a specialist wine shop in Paris. “The Parisians wouldn’t drink Languedoc wines when I first started selling them in 1993. They’d come into my shop and ask for Bordeaux, and I’d give them a Minervois from the Languedoc. They all thought I was crazy,” he says. But today a quarter of his wines are from the Languedoc, and they’re his best sellers.
Let’s begin with Corbières, home to the Cathar fortresses that I wrote about last week and whose mountains form the boundary between Languedoc and its southern neighbor, Roussillon. Here, the Carignan grape is king and it finds a varied expression in the area’s many soil types and microclimates. Carignan can be a difficult grape, being naturally high in acidity, tannins, and astringency and therefore requiring considerable skill to produce a wine of finesse and elegance. Normally, you will find it blended, principally with Syrah or Grenache, and a few years of aging can do wonders to tame the unruliness and bring out the bouquet of these fundamentally rustic wines.
Neighboring Minervois produces silkier wines, chiefly from the same grapes as Corbières. The Minervois reds are probably the best wines to come from the Languedoc, featuring a deep, inky violet color, and tempting aromas of ripe dark berry along with light spice and violet notes. The wines are also full-bodied and powerfully structured, and together these elements make Minervois the quintessential Languedoc red. I think this is the place to start if you want to explore the wines of this region.
West of the Corbières hills and south of Carcassonne is Limoux, home to the world’s first sparkling wine. Blanquette de Limoux has been produced here since at least 1531, mostly from the Mauzac grape, with smaller amounts of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Mauzac plantings are declining around the world, and this region is one of the last where it has an ongoing presence. The grape gives Blanquette a unique profile, with apple flavors and distinctive aromas of fresh-cut grass. An interesting wine to try if you ever come across a bottle.
Nestled in the foothills of the Cévennes, northwest of Béziers, Saint-Chinian makes a different type of Languedoc wine. Originally based around Carignan, more recently this appellation has shifted towards Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. Saint-Chinian wines offer dark fruit, spice, and herb notes that are held together by a refreshing mineral edge. Quality and style can vary, but low yields, a mild climate, and judicious blending make Saint-Chinian an increasingly reliable choice.
.Finally, don’t forget the Roussillon wine from Banyuls-sur-mer that I wrote about last year. Although dessert wines are out of fashion, I have a soft spot for this one, and if you ever spy a bottle, I very much recommend buying it.
Te enviamos us abrazo Giovanni, Maria Eliza y toda la familia Le Petit