For more topical articles on the regions wines see my blog Languedoc Wine.Introduction
TheLanguedoc along with neighbour Roussillon is currently France's most exciting and developing wine region. Twenty years ago it was responsible for much of Europe's infamous "wine lake" and little else. Today supermarket shelves stock varietals such as Syrah and Chardonnay that compete with the best of the new world for everyday drinking. When it comes to interesting bottles to accompany a fine meal then you'll find them here; not just in France, where wine is rarely imported, but also on wine lists across the globe. An added bonus is that fine wine of virtually all styles is made - red, white, rosé, aperitif/dessert with even port equivalents and sparkling wine.
Much of the credit for the early rejuvenation of the Languedoc's fine wine reputation is down to Aime Guibert's Mas de Daumas Gassac, located between Aniane and Gignac 35 Km northwest of Montpellier. Aime's first vintage was back in 1978 and his property has been coined the "Lafite" of the Languedoc, partly because the wine is more in the Bordeaux style with around 80% Cabernet Sauvignon. Being atypical for the region and directly comparable with Bordeaux certainly helped gain attention.
Today scores of grower/winemakers from all over the world have been establishing themselves - our favourites are listed below. Most of them use the region's more traditional red grape varieties – Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvédre and Cinsault (traditional for roughly 150 years that is). What’s making the difference is not just dedication, but also reduced yields combined with modern winemaking equipment and techniques.Buying Wine
In the restaurants listed here you'll find enjoyable and interesting drinking from perhaps under 15 € to the 60 € plus the regions finest now command. If you want to seek out a producer then the Carte des Meilleurs Vignerons du Languedoc et du Roussillon is all you need. It's available from the finer restaurants and tourist offices, but I've not found a way to order it on the Internet. Do remember that many producers are relatively small family operations and don’t always have the time or resources to receive visitors who just turn up. This is especially true around harvest time in late August/September.
If anything, buying wines at source has become easier over the past few years as most growers have had to put more emphasis on marketing than ever before. The local alternative is to seek out a caviste in the larger towns, for example in Pezenas the central Reinaldos stocks many gems and there are two cavists with a web site - Show Vin and Le Nez dans le Verre. La Terrace du Mimosa in the square of the wine village Montpeyroux has a magnificent local selection at cellar door prices. Also look in on Au Fil de Vin in Clermont l'Herault. The nearest thing to a "wine warehouse" can be found at Mas de Saporta on the south side of junction 30 on the A9 autoroute at Montpellier, or on the outskirts of Narbonne in the same building as the La Table Saint-Créscent restaurant. Note that these outlets only stock AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) wines which means that a number of the region's finest will be absent - a subject I discuss below.
You will also find good wine shops in Montpellier, Nîmes and Beziers, but some of their stocks can be heavily marked up. Trinque Fougasse in the northern suburbs of Montpellier (the medical area) is particularly strong on mature Languedoc wines from top estates - at a price. There will be several wines on tasting and this can make choosing a glass easier if you eat there - the simple food is sound and there's a good ambiance.
Based in Toulouse independent cavist Philippe Dorso, www.wines-and-spirits.com (English version), delivers to the north EU including the UK. As well as wines from the Languedoc and South-West, there's a broad range of french wines, spirits and champagnes.
For further factual information on Languedoc wine (in French) see Coteaux Languedoc.
For UK retailers check out Terroir Languedoc who have a very informative site.
These stars are also available, along with fine wines from all across the south of France, at Joseph Barnes Wines who have a shop in Saffron Walden in addition to on-line mail order. Yapp Bothers have been strong on regional French wine for decades and stock gems like Mas Bruguière.
Leon Stolarski Fine Wines also provide a UK service and are particularly strong in the western Languedoc, such as Minervois and Roussillon and also for more everyday wines.
For a comprehensive guide to just about all things wine in the UK start at Tom Cannavan's Wine-Pages.What to drink
If you prefer the modern ripe fruit "new world" style of wine (Australia, Chili etc.)
then the majority of the wines listed in the restaurants I
feature follow this mould with the exception of the finer red wines that
generally have more austere tannins, especially when young. This is one reason why we are so seduced by
them - they bridge old and new world wine styles; fruity wines with a bit of tannic grip and character.
For the whites expect to see local aromatic grape varieties dominate as they are better suited to the hot summer climate than the ubiquitous Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs etc. The latter are becoming more popular with growers who pick early to preserve their freshness and while they're generally inexpensive, they lack the minerality or their northern cousins.
If in doubt, ask to be guided towards wines that are fruity and avoid anything you're unfamiliar with that's more than 4 years old. Vintage is of minor importance in relation to the grower or estate that made the wine.
The best Languedoc wine list can be found at Le Mimosa and for local Terrasses du Larzac (roughly the Herault valley) wines La Terrasse du Mimosa at Montpeyroux. Not far behind is L'Auberge du Cedre where only ready to drink wines are listed. All offer bargains for rare mature older vintages.Wine Tasing in the UK
Most of the UK merchants listed above hold wine tastings.
To learn more about wine generally I would recommend seeking out your local wine club. I frequent the excellent and long established Charlemagne Wine Club who organise monthly tastings in West London.
The Wine Education Service go one step further and run wine courses at various levels as well as tutored evening tastings in various central London locations.AOC - Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée
AOC is awarded to wine areas of France where the best quality wine is made. For each area a tailored set of rules are developed covering such aspect as the land approved for AOC vineyards, the grapes that can be grown, the yield and the grape blends used to make the wine (the cépage) etc. I'm not going to get into the merits or otherwise of such a system other than to say it's restrictive and provides very little protection against encountering some very average wine making.
To give an example, many estates grow the classic French varieties from other regions, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier. However, wine using these varieties can only be called Vin de Pays in the Languedoc (the exception being little know Malepère that allows Cabernet). The Muscat grape is restricted by AOC to make sweet wine, yet there are some interesting dry Muscat wines that are again labelled Vin de Pays. All of this is irrespective of the quality or price of the wine.
What this all means is that it's essential to go by the name of the grower or producer of the wine. Of course this makes choosing wine as hard (or easy) as selecting a restaurant. To help I list some personal recommendation below.Recommendations
From over 15 years of visiting the region there are a core set of growers whose wine we have stocked up with. Most of these are sited around the Herault Valley – the Coteaux du Languedoc and Terrasse du Larzac.
Mas Julien, Jonquières – for us it was drinking the reds and whites of Olivier Jullien that signalled our conversion to the new Languedoc. Today his wines are seriously sought after (and sadly relativly more expensive) but better than ever with his sublime dry white a perennial favourite. His search for vineyards with complementary terroirs is just one of his lifetime achievements.
Mas Bruguière, Pic St Loup – the vineyards scatted around this landmark mountain
produce (relatively) lighter more elegant supple wines. Mas Bruguière is right between the
Pic and the spectacular overhanging Hortus escarpment and is a consistent
producer making wines that have remarkable longevity for the area while still being
attractive when young. A good place to taste and buy on the spot, or for UK delivery
try Yapp Brothers, the original French "country wine" pioneers.
Clos Marie, next door to L'Auberge du Cedre in Lauret, can be hard to source - try Joseph Barnes Wines for UK supplies.
On the south east slopes of the Pic Morties also makes some superb reds.
Font Caude, Montpeyroux – Alain Charabon’s hand crafted wines need bottle age to help them unwind their elegant lingering flavours. Understated wine that needs one’s full attention. Sadly Alain stopped making an AOC Montpeyroux in 2000, but his Syrah and Merlot based wines are top examples.
Jasse Castel, Montpeyroux – Pascal and Laurent Marcillaud produced their first vintage in 1998 and make voluptuous supple ripe reds with a grip that puts them squarely in the Languedoc.
Domaine Aupilhac, Montpeyroux – like Olivier Jullien above an established name in the area. Sylvain Fadat's Le Carignan is a rich and ripe groundbreaking classic that everyone should try (but drink young or keep). He shows what can be done with an everyday grape through old vines, controlled yields and some alchemy in his cellar. In recent years new vinyards have been established above the village at a cooler 300m.
Mas Gabriel in Caux harvested their first vintage in 2006. The bio-dynamic wines have a great purity combined with character. Their white made in minute quantities from Carignan Blanc is special.
Reserve d'O, Arboras – from the village next to Montpeyroux, a relatively new producer with vines grown at altitude giving elegance and a cooler fruit.Mas Brunet, Causse de la Selle – another property in the hills, this time behind Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert. Relatively unknown good value red and white.
Domaine Le Pas de l'Escalette have rescued vines at a heady 350m on steep limestone scree right under the Larzac plateau. The flinty mineral white Les Clapas Blanc is near impossible to place in the Languedoc. Excellent reds as well. First vintage was 2003.
Domaine Sainte Rose, Servian – has a most informative web site. This exciting renovation by Charles and Ruth Simpson had their first vintage is 2002 and the wines are much more than promising. La Garrigue is their red based on Syrah and Grenache, and they also make excellent Chardonnays. UK delivery is a superb service and is one of the best Languedoc buys in the UK.
Domaine Ollier Taillefer, Fos – is our pick of the very reliable Faugères Appelation.
Domaine Rimbert, Berlou – is a rising star in the St Chinian Appelation. The wines have a minerally elegance that brilliantly express the Schist (shale and clay) soil.
Domaine Barroubio, Saint-Jean-de-Minervois – makes the most elegant sweet muscats of the region and super value Minervois reds.
Domaine Treloar is a Cotes du Roussillon from Trouillas. Their first vintage was 2006 and all the wines have terrific purity and definition. Buy from Leon Stolarski Fine Wines in the UK or by free mail order from France.