Languedoc reds: always in search of an identity

Not so long ago, the Languedoc region was often referred to as “ the California of France .” Not so much because it’s hot, dry and vast...


Not so long ago, the Languedoc region was often referred to as “the California of France.” Not so much because it’s hot, dry and vast, even if everything is true, but because when it comes to wine, anything goes.

In other French regions, it seems, the rules were clear. Red Burgundy is made with Pinot Noir, for example, and producers have rarely had reason to deviate from it.

But Languedoc was different. Its history was to produce large quantities of cheap wine, the quantity far exceeding the quality. But as consumption habits changed, people in France and everywhere else began to consume less wine, but of better quality. Languedoc has long struggled to adapt and acquire a new, clear identity.

Producers there had little reason to adhere to appellation rules – few people bought wines because they were called Corbières or St.-Chinian, two of Languedoc’s many appellations.

As in California, they experimented, supplementing or replacing traditional southern French red grape varieties like Carignan, Cinsault and Grenache with more internationally popular varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Often, winemakers were encouraged by the European Union, which offered incentives to replace vines it deemed to be of poor quality, such as Carignan.

I’ve had some wonderful Cabernet wines from Languedoc that I believe did their terroirs justice. But, as in many regions of the world, Languedoc, too, is rediscovering the vines that have flourished there for so long. Made with quality over quantity in mind, wines can be distinctive and compelling.

This month, we will drink three red wines from Languedoc. The bottles I offer are:

Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie Corbières Rouge 2019 (Rosenthal Wine Merchant), New York $17

Domain of Hortus Pic Saint Loup Bergerie Classic Red 2019 (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, NY) $20

Domain of Aupilhac Languedoc Lou Maset 2018 (Wine Merchant Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, CA) $23

If you can only find more recent vintages of these wines, that’s fine. If you can’t find these bottles, other producers to look for include Domain of the 2 donkeysClos Fantine, Domaine les Serrals, Domaine des Amiel, Domaine Rimbert, Clos Marie, Domaine Leon Barral, Maris Castle, Mas Jullien and Maxime Magnon.

I don’t think you need to be picky about what to serve with them. Meat stews and soups, roasts, sausages, bean dishes, chicken dishes – you should be fine. I would expect these wines to be more rustic than subtle, and I mean that in a good way.

Another point: Languedoc was usually called Languedoc-Roussillon. It was perhaps a natural link between two neighboring regions in the south of France. But they are quite different, and increasingly they are now considered independently of each other.

Soon perhaps, if I can find enough bottles, we’ll be looking at Roussillon whites for an entirely different experience.

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