Home Consumer Check Out These Great Tasting Wines From The Languedoc-Roussillon Region

Check Out These Great Tasting Wines From The Languedoc-Roussillon Region

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By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr    

There is no shortage of reviews and commentary about the wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne, but best of luck reading something about the wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Although the wines from this vast region produce one out of three bottles made in France, it is often ignored in the grand discussion of French wines. Sometimes we get the feeling that the region is considered a step child of French wine, but those who are familiar with these wines appreciate not just their value but also their quality.

Exterior of Soleilla (Image: Soufiane-Zaidi)

It wasn’t always that way in this southwest corner of France where hillside vineyards mingle with scrubland and mountains. Until the last few decades, Languedoc-Roussillon was known for its plonk wine, sweet dessert wines and rosé.

We recognized the evolution of the red blends in a recent tasting of the top producers. The red wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon are some of the best kept secrets in wine today. So, why aren’t we hearing more about them?

Languedoc-Roussillon’s past does not do it well. Its history is riddled with setbacks that start in the mid-13th century when France conquered what is now Roussillon. For a long time – even now in some circles – Roussillon is more like Spain than France because of its Catalonia heritage. Because it represents only 10 percent of the wines from the region, the focus has been more on Languedoc. Although Languedoc’s rosé is commonly found in the U.S., red wines make up 60 percent of the region’s production and they are the hardest to find.

Its image problems were compounded when it was one of the first regions to be devastated by the root louse phylloxera.  As French scientists rushed to find a cure, they experimented with grafting American rootstock to Languedoc vines. Although this solution eventually saved France, the grafted vines struggled to grow in Languedoc’s limestone soils. Producers, nearing bankruptcy, imported juice from Algeria and Spain and raised yields from dying vines. The 19th century was not kind to Languedoc producers.

Gerard Bertrand (Image: Soufiane-Zaidi)

The region languished in the international market until the Languedoc appellation d’origine controlee was created in 2007. Under AOC regulations, quality slowly improved as top producers such as Gerard Bertrand concentrated on bringing world recognition to the region’s wines. They lowered yields, introduced biodynamic farming in a big way, moderated oak usage and improved their winemaking. Today, about 16 percent of the wines are grouped in 23 AOCs or AOPs. Those that don’t qualify are grouped under Indication Geographique Protegee, which allows for more grape varieties than the indigenous syrah, grenache, cinsault, carignan and mourvedre.

Climate and soil are as diverse as the culture and language. Those regions along the Mediterranean are blessed with a maritime climate, for instance, while grapes in hillside vineyards struggle to ripen. In general, the summers are hot and long, the rainfall scarce and the tramotane winds fierce. High temperatures and little rain lead to wines with high alcohol and often low acidity, which summarizes the challenge here.

Cooperatives, which reduce expenses by using one winery amongst several growers, account for more than 70 percent of the wine. Growers know how to produce good grapes, but may have no idea how a wine is made. The absence of that connection often results in a wine that pleases neither the grower nor the winemaker. Slowly, the best producers are leaving co-ops. It is the right step to raising the bar.

The draw for wine consumers is that there is a wine for just about everyone and at a range of prices. But those who stop at the simplified AOCs grown in the hot scrubland will miss out on the complexity of red wines grown in the hillside and coastal sub-appellations.

Most of the wines here are blends of grenache, cinsault, syrah, mourvedre or carignan because the whole is usually better than the parts. What one grape variety lacks in color, another lacks in acidity. That said, many producers are making wines dominated by either syrah or carignan. It is a stylistic approach that maximizes a vintage and a vineyard that we particularly enjoy.

Chateau l’Hospitalet (Image: Soufiane-Zaidi)

Bertrand’s approachable Chateau l’Hospitalet is a blend of syrah, grenache and mourvedre and it has incredible dimension and pure-fruit character.  Domaine Gauby’s blend of carignan, grenache and mourvedre is just a fun wine with generous aromas of red roses with deep cherry flavors and tantalizing hints of spice and herbs.

But Jean Paul Rosset at Chateau de la Negly likes to focus on either one of two grape varieties. His 2018 La Clape D’Ancely is mostly mourvedre with a little grenache. His 2018 LaPorte is all syrah. Both were among the most impressive in our tasting.

As an introduction to Languedoc, look for Chateau Bouisset “Cuvee Eugenie” La Clape and La Condamine Paulignan Minervois, which for $20 each deliver a lot of fresh fruit flavors.

These top cuvees, not necessarily current vintages, range from $45 to more than $200:

Gerard Bertrand l”Hospitalet La Clape Grand Vin 2008 (Gerard Bertrand)

Gerard Bertrand l”Hospitalet La Clape Grand Vin 2008.  Generous floral aromas with ripe strawberry flavors and kirsch flavors with a hint of licorice. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre.

Domaine La Tour Vielle Coilloure Puig Oriol 2017. Opulent aromas of lavender and roses, youthful cherry flavors, concentrated. Mostly syrah with black grenache and carignan.

Domaine Gauby Vieille Vignes Roussillon Rouge 2015. A very special wine with bright black cherry flavors, rose petal aroma and hints of coffee, black pepper. Smooth mouthfeel. Carignan, grenache, mourvedre.

Gerard Bertrand La Forge Corbieres Rouge 2018. Carignan dominates this wine with a little syrah to soften it up. Assertive aromas of cloves and red fruit. Sweet cherry and cassis flavors. Soft tannins.

Chateau de la Negly “L’Ancely La Clape” 2018. Made entirely from Mourvedre grapes, this beautiful wine takes on a blue fruit character with hints of chocolate and mineral.

Chateau de la Negly “La Porte du Ciel La Clape” 2018. Syrah is the dominant grape in this luxurious wine with huge aromas and extracted, ripe cherry flavors with hints of bourbon, licorice and vanilla.

Clos des Truffiers Languedoc 2018. This syrah-based gem has blackberry and black currant flavors with hints of cocoa and spice. Earthy and lingering.

Gerard Bertrand Minervois Clos d’Ora 2017. A giant in a class of its own, the Clos d’Ora is dark in color, dense in flavor yet enjoyable to drink now. Soft tannins, big aromas, red fruit and a hint of cocoa.

Wine picks

Sandy Giovese Vino Rosso Italy 3 Liter N/V (The Reed Street Bottle Shop)

Sandy Giovese Vino Rosso Italy 3 Liter N/V ($32-36). Made from 87 percent sangiovese and 13 percent trebbiano grapes. Packaged in a 3-liter box that holds the equivalent of 4 bottles, this package creates 1/10 the carbon footprint of one glass bottle. It is a light and fruity red wine that is perfect for a crowd and should be served chilled. It will last in the refrigerator for a month after opening.

Dows Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2016 ($26). One of the best values in port today in our opinion. Very bright with cherry and plum notes and a hint of licorice. Not too sweet, a delicious drink any time of year. Give it a little chill in the warmer months.

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Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr, MoreAboutWine, posted on SouthFloridaReporter.com

Republished with permission

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a weekly wine column for more than 30 years. Additional Wine reviews on MoreAboutWine

All photos are randomly selected and do not indicate any preferred wine. Listed prices are subject to change and do not include tax or shipping.

You can send questions to Tom Marquardt mailto:marq1948@gmail.com

Always drink responsibly!

Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a wine column since 1985. They have traveled extensively to vineyards in France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the United States. Tom currently resides in Naples with his wife, Sue, where he conducts wine tastings. His web site is MoreAboutWine.com. Patrick is in the wine retail business in Annapolis, MD.


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