You don't have to look very far for interesting, affordable and terroir-driven wines. You just have to look south. Every country in Europe usually boasts the best values in the warm, sun-filled regions. Grape-growing is easier, nature provides the ideal elements; plenty of sunshine throughout the growing season and mild temperatures during the cold winters. With lots of warmth and sunshine you would expect high yields and elevated alcohol levels, however, when you have the combination of dry, drought areas and old vines, you have a recipe for grapes that can be concentrated in flavor and adequately in smaller yields.
France is famous for the reds wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhône, yet the regions of Languedoc and Roussillon are now attracting better grape varieties and modern winemaking techniques, propelling their wines to the top of the wine lists.
Languedoc-Roussillon is France's largest wine region, covering many different climates and soil types. The climate is influenced primarily by the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees mountains in the west along the border with Spain. The terrain is quite rugged and covered by garrigue, (flora or bushes that grow wildly over fields, including lavender, herbs, twigs, flowers).
With a diversity of grape varieties, you can find every type of wine produced here, high-quality sparkling, white, red, rosé, vins de liqueurs and vins doux naturelles. There over 60 AOPs and by far the largest producer of Vin de Pays. The wines can be described as Rhône-like with the structure of Bordeaux.
The principle white grapes are:
Bourbelenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Mauzac, Muscat d'Alexandrie, Muscat Blanc à Petite Grains, Picpoul, Roussane, Vermentino (Rolle)
The principle red grapes:
Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre, Terret Noir
Some of the most important appellations:
Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Lunel and Muscat de Mireval
Côtes du Roussillon
Pic St-Loup in the far north is an impressive rock, spiny and rigid, made of limestone and covered in forests. The vineyards in this area have a distinct terroir, pounded by winds and heat in the day and dry, dessert-like cold nights.
There are several grapes that all do well. Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah make the blends for Pic St-Loup rouge and rosé while other grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon can be used in the Vin de Pays d'Oc label to make value-driven Cabs that taste just as good as the neighboring Bordeaux.
Châtea La Roque and Château Fontanès
Cyriaque Rozier, the highly acclaimed winemaker and vineyard manager at Château La Roque, makes his own wine under the label Château Fontanès in Pic St-Loup in the Languedoc.
Corbières landscape is dramatic, a mix of hills and valleys. The red wines are perfumed and carry a depth of earth and tannin. The dominance of Grenache has added made the wines more appealing to young wine drinkers, however when blended with carignan, syrah and friends, they can take on a whole new dimension of interest.
Two producers to taste:
Château de Serame, Corbières
International Wine Spirit Competition 2011 “ Great colour extraction in this, deep ruby with purple edge. Tight, dense fruit and a hint of candyfloss on the nose, herbal, fresh and youthful. Fleshy fruit and rich round palate, just off dry entry and a hint of burnt caramel. Supple and well-balanced, good concentration and satisfying. Drink well now.
Maxime Magnon, Corbières "Campagnes"
Maxime’s tête de cuvé, “Campagnès,” is a single vineyard of the hundred-year-old Carignan, and is the most age-worthy in his line-up. All wines are aged in second-hand, Burgundian barrels sourced from a producer in Chassagne.
Fitou, with it's two distinct terroirs within Corbières enclave is divided by the clay-limestone band around the lagoons on the coast and the inland patch of mountains on schist.
Fitou is a made from a minimum of 30% carignan, plus mourvèdre, syrah, grenache and other lladoner pellut.
Domaine du Tauch
Tauch has one of the oldest vineyards in France. Wine was first made here by colonists from ancient Greece and later by Romans. The Domaine du Tauch covers 25 hectares of dramatic vineyards between the foothills of the Pyrenées and the mountains of Corbières.
Minervois, Béziers, Agde, Bédarieux, Montpellier, Nîmes: encompassing both the western and eastern Languedoc regions. A wide range of origins builds complexity in the wine. All areas are under maritime influence which provides cooler, fresher conditions. Vineyard orientation is to the east and south. The soil is varied, with chalk, marl and schist predominant.
Mas la Chevalière
Michel Laroche was one of the pioneers in the resurgence of quality winemaking in the South of France in the early 1980s. His commitment to the area was cemented when he acquired Mas La Chevalière, a state-of-the-art winery on the grounds of a splendid 18th-century guesthouse and he began to produce wines using Southern French varieties. Similar to their siblings from Michel’s other properties, including Laroche in Chablis, the wines from Mas La Chevalière express a pureness and flavor profile that leads with fruit followed by a small amount of oak beautifully balanced by the perfect amount of acidity.