The Languedoc Roussillon is probably France's oldest wine region, dating back over two thousand years. It is a region steeped in history, culture, food and great value wines. If you like rich, ripe red wines (under $15!) then read on for a list of wines you'll love.
When I lived in France the Languedoc Roussillon was one of my favorite regions to visit, and not just for the wine. Cities such as Nîmes, Narbonne and Carcasonne are home to some of the oldest Roman architectural remains outside of Italy from the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aquaduct to the historic walled city of Carcasonne, and the best preserved gladiator fighting arena of the Roman era in Nîmes.
Such heritage can only beget interesting wines. The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region is France's largest wine producing wine region. However, for a long time it had a reputation for poor quality wines. That has changed over the past twenty years. And the great thing is that the excellent quality wines that are produced today are also some of the greatest value wines available, most are under $20.
What makes the region a bit challenging for the consumer to understand is the plethora of not so well known appellations, and the fact that the wines are typically blends. While some white wines are made, red wine accounts for over 80% of production. Additionally the area really is two distinct wines regions – the Languedoc and Roussillon.
In both areas red wines are made from varying blends of Carignan, Grenache Noir, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre, and each appellation controllée (AC) within these areas has its own specific regulations as to minimum or maximum permitted percentages of these varieties.
In terms of appellations Roussillon is the easier of the two to understand, with essentially three appellations for dry red wines. These are AC Côtes du Roussillon (can also be for white or rosé), AC Côtes du Roussillon Villages (only red wine) and AC Collioure.
In the Languedoc there is the extensive appellation Coteaux du Languedoc, within which certain communes awaiting AC status are permitted to put the commune name on the label. Examples that you see widely in the United States are La Clape, Picpoul de Pinet and Pic-St-Loup. Of the official Languedoc AC appellations the most important in terms of dry red wine are Corbières, Minervois, Fitou, Faugères and St. Chinian
While today I am focusing on dry red wines, let's not forget that the Languedoc Roussillon is also home to some of the most famous sweet Vins Doux Naturels. But that is a post for another day.
As mentioned above, one of the great things about wines from the Languedoc Roussillon, is that they are great value. For under $20 you can buy wines of great diversity. I have been tasting through quite a few of late and I have to say these wines are perfect with hearty autumn fare, which is only natural, given the local cuisine. It relies on local ingredients such as herbs, tomatoes, olives and olive oil rather than dairy products to bring out the flavor in such famous dishes as cassoulet, confit de canard, bourride (a catalan fish stew), and gardiane (a famous bull stew from the Camargue). I am feeling hungry as I write.
Some favorite Languedoc Roussillon wines that we have been enjoying are:
• 2008 Chateau Tour Boisée, AC Minervois $10 – Made from Grenache, Cincault, Carignan, Syrah, and a little Mourvèdre, this wine has bright red and black fruit flavors. Blackberry, raspberry, cherry with notes of anise, spice and tar.
• 2007 "Premier Pas", Dom. des Deux Anes, AC Corbières -$13 - Made predominantly from Carignan with a little Grenache, 'Premier Pas' mans 'first step' in French. It was the first wine produced by the husband-and-wife team. It is an organic wine with no sulfites added. Inviting black fruit flavors with layers of dried herbs and pepper
• 2007 "Travers de Marceau", Domaine Rimbert, AC St.-Chinian, $14 - Big, structured and packed with dense ripe black and red fruit. A blend Mourvèdre, Carignan, and Grenache. Smooth black cherry and blackberry flavors with notes of raspberry, red cherry, pepper and spice.
• 2004 La Croix Belle, AC Faugères, $15 - A terrific wine. Intense flavors of macerating cherries, black cherry skins, ripe blackberries, bramble fruit and notes of clove, pepper and earth. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan and is unoaked. Very well-balanced and has great length.
• 2007 Les Tonillières, Pic Saint-Loup, AC Coteaux de Languedoc, $19 – A 50:50 blend of Syrah and Carignan, this wine has such vibrant fruit – ripe red and black cherry, raspberry and loganberries with notes of anise, rosemary and lifted floral notes. No oak but aged for 9 months in cement vat. Very refreshing, yet concentrated.
• 2005 Domaine de la Coume du Roy, "Le Désir", AC Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, $13 – Fresh, bright. Ripe black fruit, strong tannins, round and lots of blackberry, black plum flavors with hints of fennel, tarragon and anise.
• 2007 Yannick Pelletier, L'Oiselet, AC St. Chinian, $20 - Made from a blend of Cincault, Grenache and a tiny amount of Syrah, this wine is delicious, juicy, refreshing and packed with ripe black cherries, black plums, blackberries and hints of raspberry, anise and smoke. Full-bodied, well structured and smooth.
Until next week enjoy!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.