When I accepted the invitation to join a press trip around the Languedoc, in Southern France, I made an ask:
“Could I possibly suggest a producer? Benjamin Taillandier? I’ve worked with his wines before and they are quite popular in New York.”
To my surprise, my request was granted. Taillandier makes AOC wine, which is of course the minimum requirement for his inclusion in our itinerary. (Brief run-down of how European wine press trips work: producers pay some kind of fee to belong to the appellation, and that money is combined with EU funding to bring journalists over; we do not need to promise to write anything in return but, of course, that is the hope.)
I think of Taillandier’s wines as approachable, in terms of natural wine. They are under 20 bucks on a retail shelf, are not “too funky” and, in my experience, never display overt bretty notes (that’s brettanomyces, for more on that see my Food Republic explainer on terroir), and most importantly, are simply pleasurable to drink: alive, fresh, just a bit complex, and excellent with food.
When we entered the winery, located in the small town of Caunnes-Minervois, Taillandier was there working with his assistant, who was topping up barrels. The young representative from the AOC wrinkled her nose. “So, is this what you were expecting? A garage?” She gestured to the slightly cramped space around us.
“Yes, this is exactly what I was expecting!” I was not about to let her attitude ruin my experience. And I have no idea what the hell she was talking about anyway, because it really wasn’t that small; I’ve seen wineries the exact same size in various parts of the world.
Taillandier seems to be in his 30s, though I didn’t confirm. He worked previously for natural winemaker Jean-Baptiste Senat, whose wines I’ve never tried.
The Taillandier line-up includes a white blend from Grenache Gris and an indigenous, lesser-known varietal called Terret; this wine cannot receive AOC Minervois status because of the inclusion of Terret. Welcome to Stupid French Wine Rules. They abound in the Languedoc, in particular. I really liked his white after it had some time to open up; it was mineral and lemony and superb with lightly blanched asparagus topped with shredded parmesan.
As well, Taillandier makes a rosé, from a direct press of whichever red grapes did not turn out that well (he is not a big fan of rosé, but is a big fan of Cinsault, which is what many winemakers use to make their rosé, so he’s generally just a contrarian). The 2015 rosé is Carignan + Syrah and I don’t care what Ben thinks, it’s good. He makes a pét-nat, which we did not get to try and which isn’t imported (Zev, get us some!).
And he also makes three AOC Minervois red blends—the fresh and easy-drinking Laguzelle (an unoaked blend of about 80 percent Cinsault, with the rest Syrah + Carignan); the bright and savory Vini Viti Bibi (70 percent Grenache, with the rest Carignan +Cinsault), and the mineral, bright Bufentis (from old Grenache vines at 400 feet of elevation, plus some Syrah, aged one year in used oak).
Over lunch, Taillandier ensured that the AOC representative would never again bring journalists to visit him by repeatedly commenting that AOC regulations were stupid because they prevented winemakers from doing their best work. “The rules are made by the big producer, the cooperative wineries, and the rules are made for them, not for the real winery,” he said. “Well, that’s your opinion,” retorted the AOC rep, as if we were going to be brainwashed by him if she didn’t intervene. But Taillandier was no means the only producer who said as much during my visit to the Languedoc-Roussillon. And even without them mentioning it, any wine taster with a good palate can see that some of the indigenous varieties and single-varietal wines, none of which can be included in the AOC, come from the best terroir and oldest vines and taste excellent.
Working minimalistically is key to Taillandier’s winemaking. “Not much work is done in the winery,” he told us, “because it all happens in the vineyard.” We didn’t get to see his 15 hectares of organically farmed vines, but Taillandier explained that they are located in the “freshest part” of Minervois, up to 400 meters in altitude, with Southern exposure. Many of his vines are between 30-50 years old. The grapes are hand-picked, then cold-stabilized. There is no crushing of the red grapes at all; he calls his technique an “infusion” rather than an “extraction.” God, how I wish more winemakers would follow his lead so there would be more drinkable wine in the world. Taillandier uses a basket press for the white and rosé, and he ferments his juice in Fiberglass tanks, and uses nitrogen to prevent oxidation rather than adding sulfur. He makes about 60,000 bottles in total. New Yorkers, you can find these wines fairly easily; I used to sell them at Uva Wines on Bedford Avenue as well as at Henry’s in Bushwick.