Why did you choose this part of France to run vineyard tours? This is a question I am often asked by the people who come on one of the many vineyard tours I run near to Carcassonne. Why didn’t I choose Burgundy for it is true I adore those complex wines or the Alsace where my favourite Riesling comes from? Or The Loire Valley as my first love was Sancerre especially matched with the Chavignol goats cheese from the same region. Why not Bordeaux and its grand châteaux for surely visitors would love to tour them? It’s also true that I have spent a lot of time in the Rhône not only because of the delicious wines but for the incredible landscape and history. So why did I choose Languedoc-Roussillon? Well the answer is a very simple one – Languedoc-Roussillon is possibly the most exciting wine region in France right now!
The wines are still evolving and almost daily something new and exciting quietly emerges out of a very unassuming winery made with passion that can be tasted in every glorious mouthful. Languedoc is actually a treasure trove of undiscovered wines many of which are made from little known varietals such as Terret, Grenache Gris and Blanc, Maccabeo and Carignan. The vast majority of pleasure drinkers have never heard of these grapes and because the world is currently obsessed with drinking the famous 7 (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Noir) people are missing out on a whole raft of fabulous wines.
It is a huge region stretching from Nimes in the east to Perpignan in the south and smothered width to breadth with vines punctuated with wine villages which nearly all contain an ugly 1930’s wine co-operative. These can be the downfall to quality unless in the right hands and many of them churn out what I describe as vin du quaff! Yes it’s OK, made in quantity with little thought of quality. Unsorted fruit meaning the rotten ones get fermented with the good ones along with the odd gecko and lots of snails! Its wine production on an industrial scale and this is what has given the region its bad reputation. So why am I so enamoured? Well I’m not enamoured with those places. The wines I love are made by the independent wine maker toiling to produce the best he can and working with the local grapes and the terroir to produce a wine with a true sense of place.
Passionate wine makers have created an artisan culture in this industrial wine producing zone. They have toiled to resurrect old vines left to die in some of the hardest landscape to farm. Why? Because they strongly believe that these vines will produce the finest wines if only you are prepared to work the land in these forgotten places. Languedoc-Roussillon is the one place in France where the rule book is still being written. It is known as the place that blends old world tradition with new world innovation.
Take wine producer Olivier Pithon who hails from the Loire but has transplanted himself in the Roussillon where he is producing some fine wines such his Cuvée Lais blanc named after his Jersey cow. The wine is a blend of 50% Maccabeo and 50% Grenache blanc and gris from vines 75 to 80 years old. It has a savoury, creamy. mineral flavour and is rich and satisfying. Not at all aromatic and as far from a Veneto pinot grigio as you can get and an ideal accompaniment to the sun ripened food of the Midi.
Another producer I greatly admire is Clos du Gravillas located in the limestone hills of the Minervois in the village of St Jean du Minervois. John and Nicole have been making wine here for 13 years and have almost singlehandedly revolutionised the Carignan grape into something everyone wants to make a 100% versions of.
And then there’s Domaine Jones owned by Katie Jones who is really making a stir in the wine world. Parker loves her wines especially the Grenache Gris and the Fitou which she is producing from her tiny vineyard of less than 5 hectares.
These 3 producers epitomise what is happening here in Languedoc-Roussillon and they are just 3 of many. The world is waking up to the quality wine made here but it’s a slow awakening. I am pleased to see that a lot more restaurants and wine merchants around the world are stocking wines from this region so they are not as obscure as they were. In my opinion the best way to experience and learn about them is to come to this glorious place. Come and see how the vines are grown, what it takes to keep them healthy and not allowed to over-yield to avoid watery or unripe wine. Come and see what happens in the winery, the alchemy that is actually science and technique. Taste the different grape varieties individually and then assembled into the finished wine. Understand why the grapes varietals are blended and realise the myth that single varietal wines are the best. Once you’ve done that you will know that wine doesn’t come out of a bottle – it comes out of the ground!
Check out my web site if you’re tempted to join me on a vineyard tour of the Languedoc-Roussillon www.vinenvacances.com