A TRIP TO THE LANGUEDOC

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In October 2014 I was fortunate enough to have the chance to head down to the Languedoc region in France. Having interned in Burgundy for half a year, I had been spoilt for choice amongst the finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the world but I had never before had the chance to travel further down South to the vast vineyards of the Languedoc (NB: the Languedoc region is situated on the Mediterranean coastline). The Languedoc-Roussillon region has approximately 700,000 acres under vine (that’s 2,800km2) and thus is the largest wine producing region of the world.

I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to taste something still very new to me; in particular the Grenache, Syrah,  Carignan, Mourvedre, Vermentino and  Roussanne varietals.  It still continues to fascinate me that it is possible to have such a stretch of varietals growing within one country, and my interest in wine continues to grow and grow – there is so much to learn and so much subjective opinion. Furthermore, it is equally incredible that essentially one type of fruit can exist in so many subspecies, and that those subspecies thrive with such different soil compositions and climates.

After having met with the other members of our group, we set off from Toulouse airport towards our destination for the 3 nights – Narbonne. Narbonne is a beautiful town that somehow weirdly reminded me of Beaune – both are towns with a rich wine history, a peripherique and striking, historic streets.

Our hotel was paradoxically modern and minimalist, however I found this to be the perfect match; its subtle appearance complimented its surroundings and flowers and plants were left to roam free throughout. On our first night we ate at Le Petit Comptoir where I had arguably my best meal of the holiday; chestnut and pumpkin puree for an amuse bouche, followed by a butternut squash soup, followed by beef cheek and chocolate melt for dessert (yes I was around 10 stone heavier when I got home). Exhausted, we all headed to bed after in preparation for the first day of tasting.

DAY ONE
Our first day was spent tasting AOC Languedoc wines at Mas de Saporta. Here, I tasted a variety of wines, both red, white and rose. I came across blends that I have never tried before and many vineyards practicing organic vinification. It was very interesting to see percentages of new oak used; the majority ranged between 20-30% new oak which meant that the varietals were very much free to express themselves. Two wines that particularly stood out to me were the red from Domaine Virgile Joly; an easy to drink red wine of 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% Carignan and 10% Cinsault, resulting in a full bodied wine with a good acidity but with the perfumed, fruity additions from the Grenache and Syrah. For me, this red was the ideal everyday wine that could suit a range of dishes, and I’m extremely envious of the people of Languedoc for having this wine at such convenience (and such low prices in comparison to back in the UK!).

After the morning’s tasting we headed to lunch at the Ferme Marine à Marseillan, which sits on the  Étang de Thau, a string of lagoons that runs through the South of France. The setting was so picturesque and the food was amazing, still dreaming about those prawns…

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The photo you see in the middle of the collage above was the setting for our afternoon tasting; AOC Languedoc wines at the Abbaye de Valmagne. Again, we saw eight vignerons who each showed around 4 wines. Each vigneron was so passionate about their wines and would discuss in depth various aspects of winemaking. This really set in stone the notion of wine as art; this is something I strongly believe will never go away, despite some winemakers around the world mass-producing, the small, family-red winemakers of France will continue to gently and carefully vinify their wines with pride to produce something that is complex and full of promise.

One producer in particular really stood out to me – the Domaine le Conte des Floris. The first was “Arès Blanc 2012” – a blend of 60% Marsanne and 40% Carignan Blanc (a particularly rare grape that is difficult to come across – there are only 411 hectares of it). The wine was a nutty, full bodied, buttery white yet had a great acidity running through it with citrus notes on the finish. It baffled me when I first tasted it because it was so different to the grenache and vermentinos that the Languedoc is well known for, but it intrigued me and its oaky, buttery notes drew me to it. It only has an annual production of 5000 bottles and it isn’t distributed in the UK – if only! The winemaker studied in Burgundy and hence his wines have this Burgundian touch to them – indeed the Carignan reminded me a little of a Meursault in style. His red “Homo Habilis 2011” was a blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre and 25% Grenache. This wine ages in older barrels from the Clos de Tart which he gets from his old professor. He emphasised to me the importance that these barrels are not new – he wants the grape varietals to speak for themselves and dislikes extraction and over-dominance of oak. A wine with blackcurrant and clove notes, its tannins were still quite firm, but this is a wine made to keep and I would be very excited to try it again in a few years’ time.

Another wine that has several doodled hearts next to it in my tasting booklet was a Grenache blanc/Vermentino (fairly atypical!) blend from the Chateau de Fourques, called the “Vigne de Madame 2011”. Also vilified in oak, this had a surprisingly high freshness with extremely aromatic notes. I’ve never tried a white like it before and I doubt I will! The perfumed aromas were intense and striking and it’s a wine I won’t forget. With only a production of 1500 bottles/year, I’m jealous of those that will get to enjoy it.

One final wine from this tasting that was also extremely interesting was the Meli Melo from Domaine de Roquemale, produced on 100% Alicante Bouschet (yep, Alicante!). A big wine of a super dark red colour (almost purple) with leathery, blackberry notes that would be the perfect match with the boudins of France.

After a quick beer (after a day of probably around 100 wines, a beer is the perfect choice!) we headed back to the hotel and had a lovely dinner at the hotel’s restaurant and a very good night’s sleep.

DAY TWO   
We got up to a large array of croissants and juices and then we were off to taste again – this time the Saint Chinians of Roquebrun.

I particularly enjoyed the wines of the Chateau Coujan (not only are their labels so pretty – but their wines were great too!)

Their Cuvee Bois Joli Blanc 2013 is a blend of Grenache, Rolle and Roussanne with  a pineappley, pear-y nose. Fresh with vanilla notes, it is a wine that can be drunk alone or ideal with a variety of fish or squid dishes. They also had a super red on Syrah and Mourvedre called the “Cuvee Gabrielle de Spinola 2013” expressing intense dark fruits with hints of tobacco.

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Next, we drove to St Chinian Berlou, an adorable tiny-teeny town at the bottom of the vineyard valleys. It was baking hot and all of us were praying to make the most of the weather and eat outside – our wish was granted with a dreamy balcony style outside seating area on the banks of an old riverbed. Lunch was delicious and washed down with a slightly chilled Languedoc red. After, we had a tour of the terroir – beautiful stretching vineyards with pine forests running alongside. You can see sharp flinty stones everywhere – known as schists, which give the wines of Saint Chinian their quality. We even found a wild strawberry tree!

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After our stroll we headed back to Narbonne for a tasting of IGP Sud de France wines. The wine of this tasting for me was a white from Chateau d’Angles; a blend of 50% Bourboulenc, 30% Grenache, 10% Roussanne and 10% Marsanne. From La Clape, this is the only appellation that is based on Bourboulenc. The wine was of a pale lemon yellow colour with an elegant citrus nose with mineral, flinty notes. The other varietals help bear more fruit and give the wine a roundness and complexity. It has definitely made me want to seek out other Bourboulenc based wines.

After a quick turnaround at the hotel we headed to the Table du Chateau for dinner with the winemaker from the Abbaye de Fontfroide and some fantastic wines, among which was a delicious Muscat sec. The food was also amazing – butternut squash soup followed by beef cheeks and some of the best chocolate truffles I’ve ever had with our coffee. After, we went out for some beers in Narbonne and ended up at a bizarre “nightclub” which made for a hilarious night.

DAY THREE 

After another super breakfast (yep, confirmed, at this point I was definitely sure I was turning obese) we headed to our final tasting of Corbieres wines at the Chateau de Luc in Luc sur Orbieu. The Chateau is just wow – I would do anything to live there! The tasting was held in their living room with ancestral pictures looking down at us – definitely one of the most striking settings for a tasting imaginable.

The wines were all unique and very interesting; the Corbieres region is famous for its “garrigue” – low growing vegetation that is present throughout this area; plants such as thyme, juniper, lavender and rosemary that thrive on limestone soils with a hot climate. These notes are surprisingly present in the wines and give them a heady, intense presence.

The wines of the Famille Fabre (the family of the Chateau de Luc) were among my favourite; their red “Cuvee de Jumelles 2012” was a blend of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvedre where the garrigue notion was clearly evident. The daughters of the winemaker are twins, hence the name of the wine “jumelles”. (If only a wine was named after me!) Their white was based on grenache blanc and marsanne, and had a lovely freshness yet was soft and not too acidic; the perfect summer wine.

In comparison to this, I also enjoyed the white from Chateau Beauregard Mirouze – “Lauzina 2012”; roussanne and marsanne. This was interesting as it was more on the aromatic side (from the roussanne), with butter and spices from its time in oak. Two completely different styles of white, but both equally pleasing and both demonstrating good length in mouth.

The Chateau had barrels in the courtyard with various types of herb growing in them to demonstrate the scents of the garrigue. It was so interesting and definitely made me pick up the aromas on the nose!

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