So pleased to see this excellent write up of the wines of Languedoc (many produced very near Caussi) in the New York Times, Nov 28, 2012. Great list of recommended local wines. Look for them at the Cellerie de la Vigneronne wineshop in Faugeres
The Untamed Region
By Eric Asimov
ONCE, back in the 1990s, my very young son, surveying the density of scaffolding and construction sites in our Manhattan neighborhood, said, “Dad, when are they going to finish building New York?” I think of his question whenever I open a bottle of wine from the Languedoc, a region that seems as if it, too, is permanently in transition.
Find an article on the Languedoc published anytime in the last 25 years and the odds are, the theme will be the same: the makeover from ocean of mediocrity to region of vast, realized potential. Nonetheless, the progress is real. Yet the evolution of the Languedoc is not merely linear. That would be too simple, too easy, in a region that can be as challenging as it is rewarding.
A few weeks ago, the wine panel surveyed recent vintages of red wines from the Languedoc. We tasted 20 bottles, restricting ourselves to the Languedoc rather than including the Roussillon, the neighboring region that so often forms the tail end of the hyphenated pairing Languedoc-Roussillon. For the tasting, Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Michael Madrigale, the head sommelier at Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud, and Thomas Pastuszak, the wine director at the NoMad.
It was clear from our tasting why the Languedoc is sometimes called the California of France. The grip of history, so powerful through most of France in the rules that govern its appellation system, is less evident in the Languedoc. If anything, the region’s many years as a bulk-wine supplier for the rest of the country offer clear justification for the sort of experimentation that sometimes muddies the clarity of its identity.
Without the burden of past greatness, and lacking the clear delineation of rigorous appellations, many producers feel freer in the Languedoc to work with untraditional grapes in the region. Carignan, cinsault, grenache, syrah and mourvèdre still predominate, though the proportion of syrah has risen as carignan has declined. But cabernet, merlot and other international grapes are also part of the mix, especially in those wines labeled vins de pays.
A result, in our tasting, at least, were wines of great contrasts. From glass to glass, the styles veered wildly. Some evoked what I always imagine to be the wildness of the Mediterranean countryside: craggy, rocky hillsides redolent of lavender and wild thyme, the famous garrigue. Others are powerful modern wines, dominated by sweet fruit and oak. Some wines are stern, tannic, almost austere. Others are dense yet supple. And another style has emerged, incorporating the Beaujolais winemaking method of carbon maceration that can make spicy, easily accessible wines.
“The styles make the region interesting,” Michael said. “The common thread is the grapes are really good — this is great terroir.”
Thomas was impressed by the general quality of the winemaking, regardless of the style. “It’s great to see such a maligned region produce so many good wines,” he said.
I agreed with Michael and Thomas, yet for me, and for all of us, by far the most interesting wines were also the most distinct, those that could come from nowhere else but Mediterranean France. The smooth, fruity, oaky wines can no doubt compete on the global stage. Yet in the end, what will really set them apart from similar wines, whether from the United States, South America, Tuscany or Australia? Price, perhaps?
The wines most full of distinctive character, like our favorites, still rely primarily on the traditional grapes, even the oft-despised carignan, which top Languedoc producers have proved can achieve great results if its carefully farmed and the yields are kept relatively low. Our No. 1 bottle, the 2009 Faugères Jadis from Léon Barral (SC: winerie in Lentheric, a hamlet near Caussi), was 50 percent carignan, along with 30 percent syrah and 20 percent grenache. It was juicy, earthy and complex, but what really set it apart from the other wines was a tension and balance that gave the wine great energy.
At $39, the Barral was one of the more expensive wines in the tasting. By contrast, our No. 2 bottle, the 2010 Tour de Pierres from Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup, was our best value at $15. With 50 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache and 10 percent mourvèdre, it had no carignan at all. Yet it screamed of herbal Languedoc character, and was altogether delightful.
By far the most expensive wine at $80 was the 2007 Grange des Pères Vin de Pays de l’Hérault. It is one of the few cult wines of the region, incorporating 20 percent cabernet sauvignon along with syrah and mourvèdre. I can tell you from experience that it is a lovely wine, yet in our blind tasting it seemed simpler than I remembered it. Bottle variation? A period of dormancy? I don’t know, but it’s worth pointing out that our $80 was an older vintage. The current 2009 vintage is selling for more than $100.
The only wine over which the panel showed significant differences was the 2011 Domaine Rimbert from St.-Chinian. For me, this was an archetypal Languedoc wine, dry and lip-smacking with savory herbal and purple fruit flavors. Others were less entranced. Try it for yourself and see what you think.
Other wines especially worth noting were the intense yet well-balanced 2009 Grand Pas from Le Pas de l’Escalette; the tannic, herbal 2010 Clos Fantine; and the dense yet juicy 2008 Mas Champart Causse du Bousquet from St.-Chinian.
The evolution of the Languedoc continues. The unwieldy, nebulous regional appellations remain confusing, an overlapping bunch of zones and sub-zones that do little to zero in on characteristics of terroir or geography. Changes are in the works, though it’s not clear exactly when they will become official. Even so, it’s true that appellations in most regions fall short of the ideal.
Meanwhile, land in the Languedoc remains relatively inexpensive, new winemakers arrive to try their hand at expressing its terroir, and the experimentation goes on. It may be some time before the scaffolding comes down for good.
Léon Barral Faugères Jadis 2009,
Juicy, earthy and tense with complex aromas of flowers and purple fruit, and a touch of oak.
Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup,
Languedoc Tour de Pierres 2010
Minty, herbal, well-balanced and firm; full of classic regional character.
Le Pas de l’Escalette Coteaux,
du Languedoc Terrasses du Larzac Le Grand Pas 2009
Rich and beautifully balanced with savory, almost savage flavors that linger.
Mas Champart St.-Chinian,
Causse du Bousquet 2008
Dense, juicy and smooth, with almost grapey fruit flavors.
Grange des Pères,
Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 2007
Dense, ripe and powerfully fruity yet tinged with brambly, cedar flavors.
Domaine Rimbert St.-Chinian,
Les Travers de Marceau 2011
Juicy, grapey and herbal; classic Languedoc flavors.
Château de Lancyre Languedoc,
Pic Saint Loup Coste d’Aleyrac 2009
Spicy and balanced with flavors of sweet, smoky fruit and oak.
Hecht & Bannier Minervois 2009,
Dense, firm and reticent with dusty, earthy flavors.
Mas des Brousses,
Coteaux du Languedoc Terrasses du Larzac 2010
Powerful and tannic with dense flavors of dark fruit.