This week I want to focus on the wines of the Languedoc which covers a vast area of vineyards growing both varietal wines to suit international tastes but also quirky local wines unique to the region. The terrain here can vary from wild rocky garrigue to Mediterranean to more Atlantic.
I’ve chosen two Languedoc Appellations that I find among the most consistent in all of France. For red, I could have gone with Corbières or St Chinian or Côteaux du Languedoc, and they are often excellent, but I find the wines of Minervois a little more consistent and often more elegant.
Minervois is to the north east of Carcassonne beside the small region of Cabardès, which grows the expected Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan, but also Bordeaux grapes such as Merlot and Cabernet.
Cabardès is often excellent, but besides Château de Pennautier, there are almost none on the Irish market. Minervois is more what you would expect from the best of the Languedoc — fruit-driven wines with character. Minervois is almost 90% red from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan (less than 40% of a blend), but you will find some light rosé and a tiny portion white made with grapes like Vermentino and Grenache Blanc.
Years of holidaying in France has taught me that buying random wines from French supermarkets is utterly hit and miss (mainly miss) but that you can take a risk with Minervois, in particular wines from the sub region of La Livinière. Most good wine shops will have a Minervois or two in stock and don’t be afraid of spending a bit more.
My favourite white wine region of the Languedoc has to be Picpoul de Pinet, one of the rare varietal appellations in France which covers an area between the town of Pézanas and Sète on the Mediterranean coast.
Picpoul (or, more correctly, Piquepol) is originally from the Vaucluse in the Southern Rhône and also has a red and gris version which work well for rosé, but both are overshadowed by the hugely popular white version which makes nervy, textured, citrusy wines.
The Co-Ops dominate production (and do a good job), but you will also find lots of smaller producers. The high natural acidity allows the grape to cope well with the hot, dry summers, but the marine influence also helps.
Baron de Badassière Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc, France — €14.99
Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, World Wide Wines, Drink Store
As a republic, Ireland correctly eschews noble titles, but I confess I like the sound of this Barony. This wine is made specifically for Liberty Wines and is a classic Picpoul with lemony floral aromas, a textured lively palate, and a zingy finish. Perfect for Thai or Asian food in general, but also as an apéritif or with fish and chips.
Stockists: Worldwide Wines, Blackrock Cellar, L’Atitude 51 Wine Bar, Le Caveau
It was a taste of this wine at the Le Caveau tasting recently that set me thinking about the topic for this column. I loved the touch of exoticism with aromas of aniseed, guava and fragrant ripe stone fruits, textured and floral with dried lemon touches and a fine brisk acidity on the finish.
Domaine de la Madone Picpoul de Pinet, France — €11.99
Stockists: Spar, Eurospar, Mace and Londis
Spar’s wine buyer has a knack of finding solid tasty wines at low prices. This doesn’t have quite the depth of the Mirande, but does have those classic acacia flower and citrus aromas, with textured ripe fruits, a pleasing mouth-feel, and a clean citrusy finish.
La Croix de Saint Jean Minervois, France — €25.99
Stockists: Red Nose Wines Cashel Wine Cellar, Clonmel, Searsons, Malthouse Trim, www.wineonline.ie
A third-generation family estate in the slightly cooler north-east of the Appellation. 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah with fragrant red fruit aromas with a touch of spice, juicy with fine lingering structured fruit flavours. Its big brother ‘La Paire’ is a richer, more intense barrel-fermented version.
L’Ostal Cazes Estibals Minervois, France — €16.95
This is owned by the Cazes family of Château Lynch-Bages — 60% Syrah with 20% each of Grenache and Carignan, with vibrant spicy black fruit aromas, baked plums, and lingering peppery fruits on the finish. A very polished and solidly-made wine and a great introduction to Minervois and the Languedoc.
Domaine de la Borie Blanche Minervois, France — €15.99
Stockists: Matsons Bandon and Grange, World Wide Wines, Vanilla Grape Kenmare
From the producers of Château de Pennautier, who generally make solid, tasty wines, including an excellent Cabardès. This is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre and has gobs of juicy black fruits and pleasing spicy touches with hints of clove and allspice.