Languedoc was long thought of as a region that created bulk wines. These wines were inexpensive quaffers. Grapes were grown for quantity. Then some winemakers decided to invest their energy in better wines, being in touch with the soils and experimenting with what the region could produce. There were few rules.
Well, French wines don’t tend to be that free-spirited. French wines have always had a place name, an AOC, with specific rules. This meant that you had a good idea of what you would be tasting before you opened the bottle. The wines of the Languedoc, while increasing their quality, have not reigned themselves in on the creativity side. There are AOCs and rules, but the region as a whole leans to diversity. Do they need to “find themselves”, to discover the grape and style that suits them best?
Finding a wine for the French #Winophiles Journey to Languedoc
When I saw that the French #Winophiles were traveling to Languedoc, I pictured myself finding a white wine or rosé. It’s the end of summer and it’s hot in Vegas. But as I looked through the list at my favorite wine shop GaragisteLV, I was drawn to the reds.
The French #Winophiles will gather on Twitter on Saturday, August 20th at 11 am EST (8 am PST) to discuss these wines. We are led by Jeff Burrows of Food Wine Click. You can read his invitation post here.
Scroll down to the bottom for more on Languedoc Wines written by my colleagues!
Garagiste has this fantastic list that is ever-evolving. They find terrific wines, and when Jeff suggested Organic wines if possible for this Languedoc Dive…well, low intervention is a note you find often on the Garagiste Wine list so I was pretty sure I could find something.
The thing is, in the Languedoc, while many vineyards have taken to getting certifications, others (some very good as you will see), eschew certification and just focus on what they feel is right in the vineyard.
So, I picked two wines. One organic and biodynamic certified, a bright fresh, and ridiculously affordable bottle, and a bottle that is not certified, although many sites list it as biodynamic, that is a bit more expensive and sought-after than your typical wine from Languedoc.
But let’s take a step back and look at the region.
I’ll grant you that the region has been “finding” and reinventing itself. More and more vignerons in the region are focusing on quality over quantity. These vignerons have an independent spirit and their wines tend to follow their passions.
Languedoc is on the opposite side of the Rhone from Provençe, skirting the Mediterranean Sea to the Spanish Border. The overall region is known as Languedoc-Rousillon, Rousillon being the region closest to the Spanish border.
The region spans 4 different departments in the south of France; Gard, Hérault, Aude & Pyrénées Orientales. Within that, there are 30 AOCs over 5 geographical areas.
This list of AOCs here is long, too long to include here, but it is a fascinating region and I encourage you to visit Vins du Languedoc.
The region has the largest percentage of organic wines in France.
The vineyards for these wines are in the area between Montpellier and Narbonne on the Mediterranean. Considering the size of the overall Languedoc region, this is a small area to focus on, but none-the-less, I found some amazing diversity in varieties and styles in the 2 wines I chose.
Chemise de Bassac
Located in Puimisson, this winery was originally the main winemaking operation in the town, established in the late 19th century. It has been organic for over 30 years.
The village of Puimisson is 14.5 km, 23 min from Beziers – Just over an hour from Montpellier, less than 30 km as the crow flies to the Mediterranean.
With just over 1000 residents, this village is a Circulade, a traditional village built in concentric circles. These are found throughout the Languedoc region. These were the first examples of mathematically planning a town.
Bruno & Thama Trigueiro
Bruno and his wife Thama were in Sao Paolo where he was an architect and were looking for a way to get out of the frantic pace of the city and have a healthier more holistic lifestyle. Bruno’s brother-in-law approached him about taking care of this estate in the south of France. The timing was perfect. They headed to Languedoc, where the dynamic of the region allowed them to try new things.
They converted the property to biodynamic, with 2019 their first certified biodynamic vintage. Across the road is Jean-Francois Coutelou, a pioneer in natural winemaking who is helpful with guidance and advice.
The vineyards are in Bassac a hamlet outside of Puimisson with hillsides of vines, olive trees, oak trees, and cypress. They sit at 100 meters (about 325 feet) on terraces over the small river Libron.
They use only wild yeast here and seek to follow the wine, not manipulate it into something to appeal to a certain market.
I reached out to Bruno for some photos and caught them mid-harvest! He was gracious enough to let me choose some photos from their Instagram feed, so you will see those embedded below.
Mind you…It’s August 13th. They were harvesting their Pinot on August 5th, which is early for them.
2019 Chemins de Bassac “Champs des Maures’
This is a low intervention wine from the Languedoc it is a Vin de France (VdF). As a Vin de France, it doesn’t have AOC regulations to reel it in.
100% Cabernet Sauvignon this low-intervention wine comes from 15-year-old vines on limestone and clay. The grapes are slowly macerated in concrete vats, and bottles with no filtering or fining.
The wine is a deep opaque ruby and the nose has fruit, spice, herbs, and garrigue. It’s like a wild wet herbal garden and picking blackberries in the morning when the vines are still damp. There is something wild like wet underbrush.
The fruit is bright, Michael mentioned blueberries, but rich as if they have been cooked down for a jam or jelly with a hint of spices. There are notes of damp cedar and pine needles, maybe wet tobacco.
This wine is a cabernet that is joyful rather than brooding. It is light on my palate, not heavy or weighed down.
As we discussed this wine, Michael mentioned it feeling ripe, without being “overly” ripe. This climate I would imagine would allow the berries to fully ripen.
This wine was refreshing and mouth-watering. The alcohol sits at 14% and it was just $16 at GaragisteLV!
The other wine we tasted came from Mas Jullien. They do not have a website, and their wines are hard to come by. I found a bottle at Garagiste, that was brought in by the Rosenthal Wine Group. Everything I found about this wine, said that it inevitably sold out before many importers could get their hands on it.
Olivier Jullien grew up in Languedoc. He is a 3rd generation vigneron from Jonquieres which is 40 km from the coast. He watched the industrial farming in the 70s when his father grew grapes to sell to the local co-op. back then, more was better, it was all about quantity.
He went away to get his degree in viticulture and enology and returned in 1985. He searched and found the top limestone vineyards of Mourvedre, Syrah & Carignan. At the time in this region, they were not expensive, in fact, often he was finding land with abandoned vines. He scooped up 20 hectares.
The 20 hectares of Mas Jullien’s vines have been whittled down to 15 now. He has pulled out vines to replant trees to balance the ecosystem. The vines are on the rocky terraces on the plateau of Larzac at the foot of Mont Baudille.
He is considered a pioneer and visionary in the region, and is featured in Andrew Jefford’s 2003 book “The New France” as well as in Guillaume Bodin’s 2011 documentary film “La Clef des Terroirs”.
Terrasses du Larzac AOC
This is part of the Terrasses du Larzac AOC that was officially recognized in 2014. It covers 32 communes in the foothills of Larzac. The region has a Mediterranean climate and good diurnal shifts (day to night time temperatures) due to the proximity to the southern Massif Central mountains.
Vineyards in this new AOC sit between 100 and 350 meters (That’s about 350-1150 feet).
Olivier uses severe pruning, massale selection, and organic and biodynamic treatments, but he has not been certified as organic or biodynamic. Perhaps this is to keep a bit of his renegade spirit, or perhaps with all his wines selling out, it seems unnecessary to him.
*Massale Selection – this is a method of propagating vines. Rather than sourcing vines from a nursery to get a genetically identical clone, this method takes cuttings from old vines from the same or nearby property. This keeps some individuality about the vines.
Mas Jullien, Terrasses du Larzac, Autour de Jonquières 2014
I found contradicting information on this wine. One place listed it as a blend of Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache, another said 20% Syrah with 40% each of Mourvedre & Carignan, and another said 40% Mourvedre with equal parts Syrah and Carignan. After tasting I believe that Grenache is not in this blend.
I tasted this wine right after opening it and then decanted it for an hour before we tasted it again.
I had been told that this wine drank like a Bordeaux, and this 2014 did not disappoint. This wine was medium garnet in my glass. I could see through it faintly, like a deeply colored stained glass. It did have a bit of those rusty tones to it, just a bit, but decidedly different in appearance than the Cab we were just tasting. This is a 2014 after all, so it has a little age on it.
When I put it to my nose, my first thought was of sweet wood smoke. Michael mentioned Swisher Sweets, which I think is accurate. I got some really lovely, almost burnt caramel notes, as well as vanilla, cedar chest, and fruit notes of spiced fruit, like currants. In my mouth, it was thinner on my palate than I expected. It is nuanced and elegant with those sweet tobacco and herbal notes over fruit notes that in my mouth seemed more dried.
As we discussed this, we thought about other warm climate blends and Michael said this felt “slow roasted at 250 degrees” as opposed to popped in an oven at 425 for a few minutes. I suppose that has to do with the climate here, the Mediterranean influence plus those diurnal shifts from the mountains. The grapes do a slow and gradual ripening here.
This wine is 14% alcohol and we picked this up for $50.50 at Garagiste. This is a bargain for this wine.
The pairing – Garlic butter steak bites with mashed red potatoes
A recipe from Food & Wine came across my feed that I couldn’t resist. It seemed pretty perfect for these wines.
This recipe calls for strip steak cut into cubes, seasoned with salt & pepper, and quickly seared. Then there is a pan sauce with garlic, vermouth, and butter poured over them. I opted to use red wine, instead of vermouth (a little of each of the wines above) and I served it over a bed of mashed red potatoes with butter, cream, and sour cream. We did add a side salad with a dressing of red pepper puree, sweetened with agrodolce which went surprisingly well with the wines!
Both of the wines were good with the food. They were polite dinner guests and took a backseat to the main course. Michael felt if we had a harder crust on the steak, a little char perhaps, it might have enhanced the pairing.
Michael tends to be pretty picky and he felt both these wines were well worth their price. That is high praise indeed from him. We enjoyed both and loved the differences between them!
These are just 2 wines from this region. A fun and lively Cabernet, which was fulfilling and quite the opposite of your typical brooding Cabernet Sauvignon, and a blend of reds from the south of France that drinks like a Bordeaux…These wines were unexpected and delicious. On top of that, they are being grown in methods that are organic & biodynamic.
I’ve read about the region searching for itself. Some people think of it as the California of France, a region where anything goes. In this kind of region, where creativity is not strictly bound, you might not know what the wine will taste like before you open the bottle. I’ll be honest, I’m okay with that. If these wines are indicative of what is happening in this region, I’m all in.
More on Languedoc by the French #Winophiles
- Camilla shares “The Concept of Lutte Raisonnée and Braised Pork Paired with a Frémillant” at Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Wendy shares “An Edible Cheeseboard and a Crisp Rosé from Languedoc” at A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Jane shares “Languedoc Corbières Rosé with Salade Nicoise” at Always Ravenous
- Jill shares “Try These Organic Languedoc Wines” at L’Occasion
- Gwendolyn shares her Languedoc post at Wine Predator…Gwendolyn Alley
- Jeff shares “A Lighter Hand in Languedoc” at Food Wine Click!
Links and resources (in case you want to dive down the Rabbit Hole on these wines)
More on French wines from Crushed Grape Chronicles
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.