“We’re looking for value,” the well-dressed couple at the elegant Le Cirque restaurant in Manhattan tells the sommelier. “A really delicious, quality wine at a great price. What do you recommend?”
In today’s new economic world, thousands of Americans are asking sommeliers the same question. And according to most sommeliers I’ve interviewed, some of the best values in the wine world are from the Languedoc region of France.
Once dismissed as an area for bulk wine production, the Languedoc today represents some of the finest crafted wines at the best value. Dating back to ancient Romans, this region — with its 315 days of sunshine and cleansing winds — has the kind of varied soils and altitudes that make for a wide variety of wines, both red and white. Beyond that, fifty percent of the wineries are organic, which reflects the passion of today’s energetic, educated, young generation of winemakers.
Understanding Local Varietals
Most Americans are familiar with grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Syrah. You will find a Syrah blend in the Languedoc, which may include Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault, and Carignan in varying proportions depending on the producer, the region, the altitude, and the soils.
Understanding the AOCs
If you love wine, you have probably heard the term “AOC.” This is an acronym for Appellation d’origine, which translates as “controlled term of origin.” It is the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications for wines, cheeses, butters, and other agricultural products – all under the auspices of the government bureau. It is a lengthy process for a wine region to get its own AOC, as it must prove how it is different and unique from surrounding regions.
You will find 22 AOCs in the Languedoc, and I have tasted most of them. In blind tastings I can usually identify a wine from the larger Languedoc region, as they tend to have a characteristic taste of the Carignan grape, and scents that include blueberry, purple flowers such as violets, and sun-ripened plum.
The individual AOC regions include Cabardes, Clairette du Languedoc, Corbieres, Corbieres-Boutenac, Faugeres, Gres de Montpellier, La Clap, Languedoc, Limoux, Malepere, Minervois, Minervois la Laviniere, Muscat, Pezanas, Picpoul de Pinet, Pic Saint Loup, Saint Chinian, Saint Chinian Berlou, Saint Chinian Roquebrun, Terrasses de Beziers, Terrasses du Larzac, and Terres de Sommieres.
Below is a more in-depth look at some of the AOC regions.
Limoux – Predominantly white, these wines can be still or sparkling. Grapes include Mauzac, Chenin, and Chardonnay.
Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux du Languedoc – This AOC bears the name of the grape from which it is made – Picpoul. The vineyards are near the sea and the wines have a high level of natural acidity that makes them pair well with seafood.
Minervois and Minervois La Liviniere – Red, white, rose, and sweet wines are produced in this appellation. The vineyards span a natural amphitheater bordered by the Canal du Midi to the South and Montagne Noire to the North.
Corbieres and Corbieres Boutenac – This AOC produces red, white, and rose wines. Positioned between the Pyrenees and the mountains o the Massif Central, the region has a complex geological history that explains the great variety of soil types (including shale, limestone, sandstone, and marl) that contribute to the distinctive character of the wines.
Saint Chinian – Not to be confused with the wins of Chinon in France’s Loire Valley (the reds are made from the Cabernet Franc grape), Saint Chinian lies at the foot of the Caroux and Espinouse hills and spans 20 villages.
Faugeres – Increasing lauded in many wine magazines, this primarily red wine region is known for its schist and clay acidic soils and dry mild climate.
In summary, though I am privy to some of the best wines of the world, when it comes to ordering wine in a restaurant or buying it in a shop, Languedoc wine are often my go-to wines when I desire something both delicious and affordable. If you have never tasted the region, try a Languedoc wine today. You might very well become hooked.