The email came through – did anyone think they might benefit from a suppliers trip to Languedoc-Roussillon? Eh….split second response ‘yes please – mememememememeememememe!’. A bit keen perhaps, but this isn’t just any old work trip, it’s an invite to meet one of my winemakers, explore vineyards in one of my favourite wine regions and taste wine – I think you’ll forgive my eagerness!
Languedoc is in the South West of France and is one of my ‘brilliant value’ regions where my Calmel and Joseph wines hail from. It as an air of wildness that’s reflected in the unkempt buildings of former glory and scrubby terrain (in between the vastness of land under vine). It’s relatively little known beyond France and it doesn’t have a whiff of stuffy old First Growth pretension. I mean no disrespect to the more distinguished French wine regions, just for normal folk, fine wine isn’t generally on the menu for a Thursday night and Languedoc wines are just much more accessible to us wine drinkers who want a decent drop in our glass but are looking for some value for money.
Languedoc is also a bit of an underdog as far as French wine is concerned. It’s been doing a very good job to shake off the bad wine reputation that it has earned in the past and as vine quality has improved (many of the old rubbish vines grown for mass-production have been grubbed up), the region has been attracting the attention of many ‘new world’ winemakers who are bringing their little bit of magic, talent and modern methods to produce some seriously fabulous wines, without feeling the need to try and imitate anyone else. One of my favourite things is the concept of ‘Pays d’Oc’. If a winemaker doesn’t want to stick to the appellation rules (e.g. wines made in Languedoc appellation Minervois must have at least 60% Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre in the blend to be allowed to be labelled Minervois AOC), they just make it under Pays d’Oc and carry on as they fancy. Genius.
As we circled Beziers Airport, it was plain to see just how much of the region is under vine – Languedoc-Roussillon is after all the largest vine growing area in the world. Vineyards sprawl in every direction here, even around the runway itself – and this is where we started our
holiday field trip, being met by fifth generation winemaker, Jerome Vic at his family’s 12th Century Chateau at Domaine Preignes de Vieux. Here we learned some history about wine in Languedoc and visited several of Preignes’ vineyards, from tiny baby Marselan plantings to big old knarly 45 year old Syrah vines, along with our guide Laurent, the Calmel half of Calmel and Joseph.
After a sumptuous lunch, and a tasting of Jerome and C+J’s Clos du Canalet and Domaine Bergon wines (a handful of which are on my radar), Bruce (from Grape and Grain in Devon) and I took advantage of the long drive from Beziers to Minervois, to quiz Laurent about all things wine and Languedoc. Laurent is precisely the ‘new-world’ winemaker I’d hoped for, passionate about vines and wines and a little bit grungey to boot. He filled us in as to how he had spent 10 years in Washington State, some time in Chile and Australia before returning to Languedoc Rousillon, attracted by the vast variety of terroirs (different soils and microclimates).
On arriving in Minervois, we met up with the fabulous and informative Louise Hurren, the PR arm of C+J, who I was delighted to meet again, especially since I’d been in male only company (no offence men) for 24 hours by this point. How I would love Louise’s job! We then went on what I can only describe as a mild rally drive around the vines. Amazingly the Skoda Octavia and Citroen hire car, fared well with the steep inclines, right angle bends and off roading that meant that we went right into the heart of the Minervois vineyards, all the time with the snowcapped Pyrenees blinking at us in the distance.
We even visited the vines that produce the ‘Les Terroirs’ Vieux Carignan, bang smack in the middle of Minervois, a perfect example of a non-appellation wine that can’t be AOC because it’s not the right grape variety.
An important point to note once we got up in the foothills of the Black Mountains, is the fragrant scent that blows in the wind. I’d heard of ‘garrigue’, the term the French use to describe the scrubby terrain that I mentioned previously, of lavender, rosemary, thyme and it’s true, it’s all around, so no surprise then that the grapes seem to have soaked up the scent through their skins and it’s very apparent in many of the wines.
After taking perhaps 500 photos of vines, we headed back to the villa for a slap up feast of ribeye and the second tasting of the day, the full Calmel and Joseph range. All these wines are superb and I’ve struggled to keep my selection to only 6. To start, all the Villa Blanche wines are superb value. I already bring the Picpoul de Pinet, pretty Grenache Gris and spicy Syrah to my customers, but the rest of the range is worth a look. I’m shying away from the highly rated Chardonnay until people swap their ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) mentality for ABPG (Anything But Pinot Grigio), but the experts love it. The lighter Pinot Noir, with its rounded palate of fruity raspberry also shines…if there’s room for another C+J red, watch this space.
I still stand by my chosen selection from the orange ‘Les Terroirs’ range here of the St Chinian (the one with the pen knife), Faugeres (mallet) and Vieux Carignan (secateurs), particularly now I’ve stood amongst the vines in Minervois. The outstanding mulled spiced Corbieres that made a PFW Christmas appearance, seems to have improved further after a few months in the bottle, but out of all of these wines, it’s the Faugeres that is my favourite, just because it really seems to have soaked up that ‘garrigue’ and whenever I drink it now, I will now be drawn back to the rugged land, herby air and hand brake turns… oh, and the moment that Laurent plucked from thin air, an armful of old, dry vines to fuel the BBQ (I’m a sucker for a bit of hunter-gathererness 😉 ).
But let’s not stop there as there’s also the fabulous Terraces du Larzac in the ‘Les Crus’ range…oh, boy this is a good one! Think Faugeres but up a gear – superb. And not forgetting the ‘Les Cuvées Rare’ Le Pic, C+J’s scrummy Pic Saint Loup, this tasting revealing a distinct pink grapefruit finish, leaving me exclaiming ‘OMG, that really is grapefruit’ followed shortly by ‘…and just where did he get those vines?’ after every sip.