Languedoc Talk and Roussillon Rumblings
December 28, 2014
The year is drawing to a close and lots of bloggers have put together their top ten lists or favorites for 2014. Some of us are just trying to play catch-up and sort through notes for wines that made the biggest impressions upon us in this past cycle. Underdog areas seem to draw my recollections most frequently, and there was one that kept up friendly nudges for attention that I am glad to have given. This particular underdog is actually a really big dog that does not always get the affection it deserves. The South of France ( Sud de France ), historically known by its tongue twisting proper name, Languedoc-Roussillon, is the largest vineyard area on the planet. It’s often recognized for the historical quantities of wine it has produced but is still is relatively unheralded for the quality that it can deliver, despite two and a half millennium of production.
Just as our own grape vines were coming into bloom earlier this year, we were asked by the folks at L’Aventure Languedoc to host a gathering in observance of Languedoc Day if they would send some example wines to the event. I don’t usually jump on board when these wine marketing calendar days roll by, but I do have that soft spot for under-recognized areas, as well as previous knowledge of these particular libations and the great values they offer. So, I put the call out to all the members of our rotating tasting panel as well as some vino-centric neighbors and a special guest. Meg Maker is a wine pal in our neighborhood who was recently returned from a press and research trip to the Languedoc, so I asked her if she’d be interested in joining us to talk a bit about her own adventures and discoveries. We all enjoyed a lively evening stuffed with pâtés, cheeses, grilled sausages, smoked duck, a fine assortment of wines, and engaged discussion about the region.
Within the white, rosé and red spectrum we all found fine pairings for the snacks and small bites on hand. Picpoul de Pinet a made a huge splash. Nearly everyone in attendance later reported back about having identified and purchased, repeatedly through the summer, the tall thin green bottles with the cross embedded in the shoulder.
One couple in attendance immediately went so far as to seek out the Domaine de Cantagrils that had been provided as a sample, and had a case on order the next day. Fresh, light, lively and energetic, Picpoul de Pinet selections are such fun wines to be found at $12 or less…remarkable values.
Experimenting with Languedoc rosé is a no-brainer in my book. Mainly made with Syrah and Grenache, it has fruity bones, savory flesh and crispy skin that pairs well with everything from summer salads to roasted meat. By chance we brought a bottle of a strawberry juicy and anise spicy rosé, from Chateau Eulalie in Minervois, and found that Meg had visited them on one of her excursions. Another wine pal, The Passionate Foodie ( AKA Richard Auffrey ) went on a rant about Laurent Miquel Cinsault/Syrah and named it one of his top wines under $15 for 2014. This same wine took 2nd place in our pink snow rosé tasting in 2013. Whomever makes a south of France pink wine, that you find in this VT market or your own ( and given the relatively low prices ) it’s probably worth a try. If you are a true rosé lover, you’d be silly not to.
A couple of hearty and mid-weighty reds, also had us gnoshing on sausages and thinking about immediate barbecue potential and deep winter night pot roasts. The rules in the Languedoc are kind of wide open, and so what folks can grow, and how they choose to blend it, is their freedom of expression. Aside from the excellent growing conditions and favorable weather, that freedom may be one of the region’s greatest assets.
This Sainte Eulalie rouge showed up in my Dad’s wine club this summer..
Smoky savory purple spice. St. Eulalie Minervois pic.twitter.com/ptO9q8Bxq2
— Todd Trzaskos (@vtwinemedia) July 5, 2014
Syrah predominates the reds and alternates in the lead with grenache, with support from mourvedre, carignan, and cinsault which make for multi-layered and full bodied wines.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region is often referred to as a whole, but is reported in a way where the Languedoc seems a much larger font than the Roussillon. While the former maybe larger, far larger in fact, I think the intensity of the latter makes it the under-underdog. Just over year ago I had the good fortune and great pleasure to be invited to have dinner at the 21 club in Manhattan with Eric Aracil who is the Roussillon Wine brand ambassador. I wish I had decent photos or video from the evening but the lower level of the 21 club is a fairly low lit place and I was not in the frame of mind to disrupt the atmosphere by making flashes. We tasted quite an array of whites and reds and fortified wines. The red blends especially confirmed my notions of southern France. Syrah and grenache based wines with a vivid and lively presence that I only can equate with the esoteric libations of similar blends from Bonny Doon Vineyard.
When I asked Eric about the pricing on one of the reds we were tasting, he said, “12…”
I asked, euros?
and he said, “no, dollars…”
I asked, “wholesale?”
he said, “no, retail”…
Eric and I both had the chef’s mixed grill at dinner, which included elk chop, venison loin, rabbit sausages and roasted wild boar…yes I know it’s a vegan nightmare but the wines simply shined in this carnivorous context, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, even if a slightly restricted one. We had quite a bit of wine in front of us and dinner companion JoAnn Actis-Grande had the brilliant suggestion to share some with the table next to us. As it is with wine, our next door neighbors who were regulars at the club and fresh off wrapping a movie with Morgan Freeman and Dianne Keaton downtown, became fast friends and soon were calling for fresh glasses and more wine from the cellar, and had a nice ’85 second growth Bordeaux brought up. While the senior BDX wine did have good structure with mature layers and was a privilege to try, Eric Aracil and I quietly went back to to a Vingerons Catalans 2010, clinked glasses and nodded knowingly to one another.
Some of these wines are available in the US others are looking for a home here, and I am pretty sure there are quite a number of import houses that would be happy to adopt them. One such category that I am SERIOUSLY hoping gains ground here, otherwise I’ll need to start an import company of my own…Rivesaltes Ambres. Fortified wines that are made following methods originating some 800 years ago, that have ‘more recently’ become more famous through knowledge of Port wines, the Rivesaltes locals are producing taste bud and eye popping liquids that have serious age-ability.
The Languedoc-Roussillon region has been producing wine since the dawn of recorded time, and while history acknowledges its importance, the modern world is just coming back around to the historic treasures it has to offer. Wines from this place have been smacking me in the face for the last couple of years, and this past one especially, so I felt obligated to share the wake-up call. There are over three dozen appellations in the region and an even longer list of Vin de Pays wines falling under the Pays D’OC label that also deserve some glass time, so I encourage you to explore this area widely in the new year and report back on your findings. Santé!