Languedoc-Roussillon is one of the major wine regions of France and is likely the largest wine region in the world. It is located at the western end of France’s Mediterranean coast.
For most of the last century, it had the uneviable reputation for producing vast quantities of low-quality wine and being one of the major contributors to the European “wine lake.”
Times have changed, as Gaëtan Pierre of Lorgeril, a producer of wines from the region, explained at a recent tasting. Prior to the 1990s, the local wine industry was comprised mainly of farmers who produced grapes and sold them to one of many co-operatives that made and sold the wine. The emphasis for the farmers was the volume of grapes that could be produced, and varietals were chosen for their yield instead of their quality.
Since then, there has been a revolution, as Gaëtan put it, in the wine-making practices in the region. The younger generation which has taken over the farms have become wine-makers and not just grape-growers. Coarse varieties have been grubbed up and replaced by higher quality ones from the Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec) and Rhône (Grenache, Syrah) regions. Vineyard techniques have also been improved with more eco-friendly methods.
The region has been supported by specialists with experience in regions such as Bordeaux that have changed practices in the wineries and made good use of new investments in equipment and resources such as oak barrels. These ingredients have combined to boost the quality of wines from the region. while production of coarse wines is declining. Only 10 years ago, Languedoc-Roussillon produced 50 per cent of France’s wine but that has since dropped to less than 25 per cent.
With all these changes, one vital factor has not changed very much. The wines of the region are quite modestly priced and represent some of the best value purchases you will find in the market.
Lorgeril is an example of the new age of wine producers in the region, although the family has owned its main vineyard location for 10 generations dating back more than 400 years. Since 1987 they have concentrated on replanting with quality varieties at altitude to take advantage of the natural features of the region.
The Mediterranean lies to the southeast of Languedoc-Roussillon and to the west is Bordeaux and the Atlantic. In the south are the Pyrenees and the Massif Centrale rises in the north. Coastal vineyards swelter in the heat of the summer, but those farther back, with some altitude, benefit from the refreshing breezes between the bodies of water and the more marked differences between daytime and nighttime temperatures.
The younger generation which has taken over the farms have become wine-makers and not just grape-growers. Coarse varieties have been grubbed up and replaced by higher quality ones from the Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec) and Rhône (Grenache, Syrah) regions. Vineyard techniques have also been improved with more eco-friendly methods.
We tasted four wines which show the possibilities for the region:
L’Orangier de Pennautier 2012, Vin de Pays Cité de Carcassonne would sell for about $15 at the NLC (not currently listed). It is a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon and showed a plentiful aroma of blackberry and blackcurrant fruit flavours with some richness and fullness. Good acidity, and smooth tannins with just a touch of bite, made this a popular selection for value. Score: 15/Very Good.
Château de Pennautier 2012 Classique, AOC Cabardès (NLC $18.99) is also a blend with the same grapes as above and Malbec. The impression was distinctly a ripe red fruit bouquet. This offered more complex flavours in both aroma and taste — bramble fruits and spice — delivered in a very soft and smooth light tannic structure. Score: 15/Very Good.
Next we tried the Château de Pennautier 2010, Terroirs d’Altitude, AOC Cabardès which is also a blend, but this time adding Cabernet Franc and dropping Syrah, and then aging in oak barrels for a year or more. This wine is more focused with an intense nose of integrated, dried fruit flavours. The flavour reminds you of Christmas cake — dried fruit, spices and vanilla, some cherry elements — but it’s not sweet. It finishes with dry tannins. Not currently listed, it would ring in around $22.99 here. Score: 16/Very Good.
We finished with a wine from the Saint-Chinian sub-region of Languedoc, Château de Ciffre 2012 (NLC $19.98). This property is in the heart of the “garrique” countryside populated by olive and pine trees and all sorts of native aromatic herbs. The terroir is reflected in the wine as it shows intriguing herb aromatics to enhance the sweet grenache cherry nose. Gaëtan pointed out that serving at cool room temperature was important to expose the complexities of the bouquet. Score: 16/Very Good.