I’ve been sick at home for two days! Sucks, but I’m getting some writing done.
I figured I’d write a blog post about my epic two weeks in the South of France–specifically, the Languedoc-Roussillon, although I did it in reverse order. Important to know: despite this being one political region, the Roussillon and the Languedoc are different. For one, the Roussillon is Catalan (the Languedoc also has an indigenous language that’s similar to Catalan, called Occitan). People in the Roussillon are especially proud of their Catalan heritage, and they continue to speak the language and practice Catalan traditions. And another difference is that the Roussillon specializes in the fortified sweet wines known as vin doux natural. These were also once made in the Languedoc, and still are to an extent, though discreetly.
But these regions also have a lot in common:
- they are overlooked in comparison to France’s other wine regions
- their production is largely dominated by blends, and the AOC regulations favor blends exclusively in basically all categories (red, white, rosé)
- they have a wide range of producers, from small and boutique to cooperatives to large negociant projects; within the “small and boutique” sector there is some natural and biodynamic wine, though there is also some very bad wine made by wealthy expats, particularly in the Languedoc
- the terroir is Mediterranean with some Atlantic influence, lots of schist soil and clay, excellent and powerful winds (up to 13 different types) that facilitate organic farming and, above all, the garrigue—wild-growing herbs and plants that seem to lend their bouquet to everything grown there
Without going into the specifics of the producers I visited (yet), here are some of my initial, overall observations of these two areas:
Roussillon: There seems to be some amazing terroir here, like in the Maury region where old, old Grenache vines are bush-farmed in the dramatic black schist. And the vin doux naturel is a fascinating story. All over the Roussillon, coops and individual producers have holdings of this fortified, sweet wine, some in barrel and some already bottled, going back a hundred years or more. These vintage aged wines taste amazing: full of cocoa and coffee notes, and texturally rich without being overbearing. They actually aren’t too sweet and the oxidized ones have smoky subtleties that make them ideal pairings for blue cheese or foie gras.
But despite the originality of these wines and the low price compared to other well-known botrityzed or sweet fortified wines, the Rouissillon VDN are not particularly famed or talked about. This is a story I’d like to investigate more. And the domaines I was most impressed by in the Languedoc were Domaines des Schistes (the Rancio sec wine he makes is stellar) and Domaine Ferrer Ribière, a partnership between two friends and the 30-year-old daughter of one.
Languedoc: For me, two things were exciting about the five days I spent traveling around the Languedoc: visiting natural winemaker Benjamin Taillandier, whose wines I sold when I worked at Uva and Henry’s, and learning about the recently created (2005) appellation Terrasses du Larzac. In the latter, we visited with the husband-and-wife teams behind Domaine de la Reserve d’O and Mas de Brousses, and I was really impressed by both.
La Reserve d’O has biodynamically farmed higher elevation terroir, and Mas de Brousses has the interesting fact of being run partly by Xavier Peyraud, the grandson of the Domaine Tempier founder (yes, Mas de Brousses works with Mourvèdre). Picpoul is an underexplored story here, I think, as well, and I have an article coming out soon on Food Republic about those lovely wines. One other very cool visit in the Languedoc was to Domaine de Fontsainte, whose “Gris de Gris” I used to sell at Uva, and where Kermit Lynch made a partnership in his early days.
And here’s a story I saw across the Languedoc-Roussillon: Carignan. After tasting several single-vineyard Carignan wines from old vines, it was clear to me that this grape is an example of why the AOC’s insistence on blending is detrimental to these regions. So many winemakers in the Languedoc-Roussillon cannot call some of their best cuvées AOC because of the insistence on blending. I heard different justifications of it, from various perspectives, and I think I would have to really know the terroir of this region to be able to fully get it. But there are some amazing Carignan wines being made there, I do know that. Cinsault is another fascinating case where it is widely disregarded. Benjamin Taillandier, however, loves it, and refuses to make rosé with it because it’s “too good.”
Overall, it was a fascinating trip and I liked the Languedoc-Roussillon wines, especially when they were made in a natural style. I think I’ll do an extra blog post about the domaines I mentioned above. This is just an initial assessment.
One more note: I discovered a really good natural wine bar (caves a manger) in Carcassonne, called Lâche Pas La Grappe. Go there and get the meat and cheese board, and try local natural wines, such as Taillandier’s).
Thanks for reading!