The Languedoc region, the more easterly bit of Languedoc-Roussillon, makes a lot of wine and much of it is good, some of it is very good indeed.
It is the region of France with the most generous climate, so it is where the French can produce attractive, fruit-forward everyday drinking wine wine that can take on the New World at the lower price points. Much of it is Vin de Pays or IGP level wine labelled by grape variety.
Languedoc doesn’t only produce lower price wines and varietally labelled wine though. The whole region is a patchwork of appellation contrôllée wine regions too. Most of these are red – with the most obvious exception being the popular Picpoul de Pinet – and make their wines from blends that typically include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault. As such the wines often have a similar feel to those of the southern Rhône, the landscape and climate are not dissimilar either.
It is a shame that UK consumers have to be coaxed in to accepting these wines on their merits, rather than only wanting them to be cheap, as some of France’s most exciting red wines hail from this part of the world at the moment. Yes down-right cheap versions of these appellations are available, but they will only give you a limited idea of what the regions can do. Instead treat yourself to the very best that the Languedoc can offer and it will still be cheaper than wines of equivalent quality from other regions of France.
My Wine of the Week is a glorious red wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region and more specifically the Faugères appellation. This was part of the Coteaux du Languedoc – now just AC Languedoc – appellation until 1982 when the separate Faugères AC was created for reds and rosés – whites followed in 2005. The soil here is mainly schist, or decayed slate – although there are also some pockets of clay and limestone -, which is a very well drained soil and heats up quickly too, which helps ripeness. Schist also seems to introduce minerality into wines, or at least it appears that wines grown in schist have mineral characters. The climate is Mediterranean as you might expect with long, hot summers and short cold winters. The coastal influence is important and tempers the otherwise harsh conditions in this dramatic and rugged landscape.
2011 Domaine de Cébène Les Bancèls Faugères
Brigitte Chevalier, Domaine de Cébène
I have never tasted any of Brigitte Chevalier’s wines before, which has been a mistake as on this showing they are superb. Brigitte is also a negociant producing a fascinating range of wines that I want to get to know. However her passion appears to be her own estate of Domaine de Cébène. Her aim is to make elegant wines, fine wines even, or as she puts it ‘vins du nord’ in this hot southern region. In order to make these elegant wines she has planted her Grenache and Syrah vines so that they are north facing, this reduces the impact of the sun, so retains freshness in the grapes. The vineyards are on terraced hillsides at around 320 metres above sea level and all the farming is organic with everything done by hand. Hand harvesting allows for selective picking and there is a second selection in the winery too. The 2011 is only Brigitte’s third vintage, but this unoaked blend of 60% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre (north facing vines) tastes much more assured than that.
The colour is a lovely deep purle with dashes of ruby and crimson.
The nose gives wafts of richly vibrant fruit, blackberries, plums, even some raspberry and strawberry, together with earth notes, spice, truffles, mushrooms, liquorice and wild herbs.
The palate is very smooth with concentrated fruit including deep raspberry as well as the blackberries and cherries. The tannins are soft and there is a creamily ripe texture to the fruit. There are savoury, smoky garrigue characters, even slightly iodine and medicinal – in a good way like malt whiskey. There is plenty of juiciness here from the fruit, but a core of elegance keeps this wine focused and fine.
Multi faceted and a serious wine, but it isn’t po faced at all, this is delicious and enjoyable to drink, as well as clearly being a complex and lovely wine. I am sure it would age very well indeed – should you keep a few bottles aside.
If you like things like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, then you will enjoy this very much – 91/100 points.
I know it isn’t the easiest wine to find, but it is well worth seeking out – go on, give it a try, the quality that this unassuming region can produce might delight you as much as it does me.