Thursday, January 8, 2009

Languedoc - the wild wild wild South of France

In the world of general wine consuming public, hardly anyone ever heard of Languedoc. But of course, people in the wine circles have long recognized this biggest wine producing region in France (often grouped together with its southwesterly neighbor into the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region) as something of a curiosity due to the incredible amount of diverse wines that come out of that area, many very very good, and most very cheap and deep under the radar of the average wine drinker. I think there a couple of primary reasons for this:
  1. Lack of a global marketing machine - unlike Bordeaux or Burgundy, Languedoc has never been marketed as serious wine region and thus most consumers never heard of it.
  2. Situated in the south of France, with Roussillon to the left and Southern Rhone and Provence to the right, there is a lot more cheap land in Languedoc that perhaps in any other regions in France, so production volume is large, and that keeps prices low even for high-quality wines. 
Low prices + Lack of global marketing = Lack of respect by the interational public.

But that is slowly changing, as the wine producers in Languedoc are more aggressively reaching out internationally to market their wines.  The region is fairly flexible in its wine regulations and because of the relative obscurity of the wines produced here, winemakers have little to lose by experimenting in search of better quality and more interesting expressions of various grape varieties and the terroir here.  This gives opportunity to talented and creative winemakers like Louis Fabre of Chateau-de-Luc in Corbières to experiment in ways that noone in Medoc or Cote-d'Or would dream of today. Louis Fabre produces a dazzling array of single-varietal wines (or as they say in French "mono-cépage") as well as blends, and will be the subject of a future post.

With owner and winemaker of Chateau de Luc - Louis Fabre, examining the terroir of his hilltop vineyards in Corbières.

On Dec 27, 2008, I visited Corbières (with the adjacent sister appellation Boutenac) and Minervois (with the adjacent sister sub-appellation Minervois La Liviniere). Corbières and Minervois are two of the more recognized appellations of Languedoc. I found the wines from these areas to be of pretty similar profile. Under the hot southern sun, they make very full-bodied and high-alcohol whites out of at least 6 different white grape varieties (Rousanne, Clairette, Bourbalenc, Picpoul, Muscat, Grenache blanc) that have “lazy” soft flavors (as opposed to laser-focused acidity of Sauv Blancs), often taste quite gentle and thick – baked apple, pear and diffused grapefruit flavors abounding, reminiscent of the whites from its easterly neighbor Southern Rhone (and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in particular). Of course because of the grape varieties and different types of blends, there are exceptions to the above. But clearly the wines of this region are more recognized for their strong reds. Due to hot climate, as with the whites, the reds of the South of France reach high level of ripeness and sugar content, and thus upon fermentation they achieve high degree of alcohol, fruit intensity, as well as ripe tannins and often quite plush texture. They also have an unmistakable spice that is present in virtually all reds and most whites that I tried in Languedoc. That “spice” is a combination of white pepper and dried herbs (thyme, rosemary) that along with the aroma of the pine tree bark are called “garrigue”. On your tongue and in the back of your throat, that spice gives way to smoky, burnt, minty, and often bitter aftertaste, which is sometimes very enjoyable (as in lime peel) but in some examples is overbearing. Despite the delicious often port-like sweet fruit, these wines are not easy to drink because of the strong tannins and this spicy aftertaste. But with grilled meats with burn-marks I think they can be magical.

The ingredients of the "garrigue"

Now that you have the general sense of the wines made here, my future post will drill down into some of the specific experiences I had in the region and the conclusions I drew from those.  So be sure to tune in soon.

1 comment:

enochchoi said...

i love chateau la roque in pic st loup
i'll bring some over next time you're drinking...

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