Potential realised

05 May 2017

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IT HELPS to concentrate your mind when you are asked to give a talk on a wine region that you have not visited for many years, and this has happened to me recently with the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon.

This is the grand midi of the South of France, running along the Med­iterranean coast from the Rhône delta to the Spanish border at the foot of the Pyrenees.

Historically, these were the vine­yards where vast quantities of medi­ocre wine were produced to be beefed up by the robust wines of the French colonies in North Africa. When these were abandoned, many of the pieds noirs returned to France and planted vineyards, predomin­antly with Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan grapes. These were the base of such new appellations as Fitou, Minervois, Corbières, Faugère, and Saint-Chinian.

The next development was the arrival of winemakers from the New World and elsewhere in France. They saw that there was potential for better grape varieties, and they plan­ted Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier, and Pinot Noir. Because these were not traditional, they could not be used for the appellation contrôlée wines, but had the more humble designation of Vin de pays. Now the best of these ap­­pear under France’s largest appella­tion, Vin de pays d’Oc.

Such wines have had to modern­ise to compete. They have had only limited success in beating back the Australians and the Californians, but have a range of qualities and prices. Sainsbury’s offers a Taste the Difference Languedoc White (£7); and, in reds, a Vin de Pays d’Oc Shiraz (£6.50). Majestic has a Cuvée de Richard 2016 wine from the Pays de l’Aude (£6.99; £5.99 as part of a Mix Six order); and a Domaine de Montval Syrah from the Aude (£8.99; £6.99 Mix Six). Laithwaites has at £9.99 two other wines that I have enjoyed: Cabalié 2016, a full–bodied Grenache-based blend, and a Rex Mundi 2016 Syrah.

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At the higher level, the current bargain appears to be the Joseph Castan Excellence Corbières 2013 from Laithwaites (£9.99; £8.99 as part of a 12-bottle order). Some of these appellations have sub-zones with a higher reputation, such as Minervois La Livinière. Roquebrun, in Saint-Chinian, is another ex­­ample, and Majestic has the La Grange des Combes 2014 from here (£9.99 on their six-bottle formula): this is the classic blend of Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache.

My daughter buys wine at Yapp Brothers (yapp.co.uk), and I have recently enjoyed with her a Côtes de Thongue Domaine les Filles de Sep­tembre 2015 (£10.75), and a Colli­oure Domaine de La Tour Vieille la Pinède 2015 (£16.50). Looking at their list, I could also be tempted by their Ch. Roubaud Costières de Nîmes 2014 (£12.50), and Fitou Domaine des Rebouls 2015 (£13.25).

At the end of the year, it is also worth while looking out for some of the sweet wines of the region. Last Christmas, Sainsbury’s had a won­der­ful St Jean de Minervois Mus­catel, and Waitrose had a Maury made from the Grenache grape. The south of France is full of wonderful wines waiting to be discovered.

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