Wine: Re-discovering the south of France

Back to southern France again this week, as I find myself enjoying the wines from here more and more.

The fact that we have the highest wine taxes in the EU (by a long measure), means good value regions like Languedoc-Roussillon are everywhere in our off-licences and need to be explored.

The relatively stable climate here makes grape growing a little easier and young winemakers can find treasured plots of old vine carignan and grenache and old terraces to replant. Warm dry summers and mild winters also make this a very pleasant place to live and I’ve featured a couple of UK- and Irish-born winemakers that now live here such as Domaine la Sarabande and Domaine Begude, both imported by O’Briens.

Don’t think that the region is all blow-ins however, as young French winemakers are also arriving and the region has two of the France’s powerhouse winemakers in Domaines Paul Mas (Karwigs) and Gérard Bertrand. Bertrand is a particularly interesting given his dedication to bio-dynamic wine production and his ambition to bring the wines of the region to the highest level possible (eg, his powerful and complex La Forge — €65). Mas is moving in a similar direction and plans to go fully organic for his own estates.

One of Bertrand’s most interesting estates is Domain de l’Aigle in the foothills of the Pyrenees, one of the highest vineyards in the Languedoc at up to 500m above sea level. It rains a lot here and temperatures are lower with harvests a month later. 

Bertrand has gone with chardonnay and pinot noir hoping to create a (value) Burgundy of the south.

Not too far away in the Hérault Department to the north is another cool climate Languedoc region — Terrasses du Larzac AOP where Delphine and Julien Zermott began making wine in the early 2000s. This small remote AOP was created in 2005 and at 350m above sea level with well drained clay-limestone soils produces fresh crisp wines with lovely tension and complexity. 

The estate is farmed organically and is moving towards bio-dynamics.

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Château l’Esparrou Cuvée Bisconte, Côtes du Roussillon 2015, France — €13.95

Stockists: O’Donovans, JJ O’Driscolls, Ardkeen, Searsons, 64 Wine, Baggot Street Wines, Independents.

A long established Roussillon producer (18th century) with a famous 19th century chateau that has welcomed guests such as Jean Cocteau and André Breton. 

Bright red and black berry fruit aromas, soft and ripe on the palate with pleasing plum fruits, elegance, and a blackberry fruit tang.

Val de Salis Syrah, Pays d’Oc IGP, France — €8.99

Stockist: Lidl

Syrah originates in the Rhone (the Rhone-Alps region to be specific) and is best know for the concentrated long-lived wines of Hermitage.

These days syrah is grown everywhere and is more reliable than merlot or cabernet in my view. 

This has some classic earthy dark fruit aromas, ripe soft fruits with good density and texture and lingering blackcurrant fruits.

Corbières Blanc Chatelaine de
St Auriol, Languedoc, France — €9.99

Stockists: Lidl

This is made with Roussane, another high quality Northern Rhone grape transplanted to the Languedoc. 

Roussane is rarely boring thanks to its balance of fragrance, texture and acidity and although this is entry level it still has some of the grapes pleasing character. 

Floral and herbal aromas (lemon verbena), soft citrus and ripe pear and lemon drop fruits.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette ‘Les Petits Pas’, Languedoc, France — €19.50

Stockist: Terroirs Dublin www.terroirs.ie

Les Petits Pas — ‘Little Steps’ — is named after the Zernott’s two sons who were born in the Languedoc after the couple’s wine adventure began. 

A blend of Grenache, Carignan, and Syrah, this has bright red fruit aromas and juicy supple red and darker fruits on the palate. Like all their wines (and the couple themselves), this is utterly charming.

Domaine de l’Aigle Pinot Noir 2014, Languedoc,
France — €16.95 (was €19.95)

Stockist: O’Briens Douglas, Limerick and nationwide.

Domain de L’Aigle is near the village of Limoux with vines at 300-500m above sea level and relatively cool for the Languedoc, so perfect for complex Chardonnay and fine Pinot Noir Hand harvested, de-stemmed etc with a long maceration — red currant and soft fruit aromas, crunchy structured Pinot Noir with solid red-black fruit palate.

Domaine de L’Aigle Chardonnay, Limoux 2016,
France — €16.95 (was €19.95)

Stockist: O’Briens Douglas, Limerick and nationwide.

From a cooler damper part of the Languedoc at one of the highest
vine-growing areas in the region. 

The malo-lactic fermentation happens in new oak and gives the wine a smoky-vanilla undertone along with tropical ripe white fruits. 

Complex apple-pear fruits on the palate, structured, elegant and fine and a good match for turkey or roast chicken.


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