The Languedoc-Rousillon

November 22, 2009

I was all proud of myself for being early for my first day of school last week. Well I was going to be late for the second day, which was to focus on the wines of the Languedoc-Rousillon. A further difficulty was that I had just been tasting Barolo and Barbaresco; it’s kind of hard to go from the big black Nebbiolo grape to the lighter style wines of Southern France. Good thing I had a twenty minute drive across Boston to reset my palette.

 

I didn’t know much about the wines of the Languedoc before this tasting, other than that I liked most of what I had tried, and that the wines were similar to the rest of Southern France – mostly red blends, dominated by grapes like Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan, Cinsault, typically lighter but often with powerful herb, spice, and rustic flavors. As far as distinguishing Languedoc wines from their Rhone counterparts, I really had no idea. Also, I suspected, which this evening confirmed for me, a good deal of variety and diversity, and my perception of the Languedoc is still that it includes a hodgepodge of wines often more different than alike. Makes sense considering this is the largest wine producing region in the world, accounting for a third of all French wine production, and producing more wine than the entire United States! First lesson of the evening.

 

We began with a white wine, the 2008 Saint-Peyre Picpoul de Pinet, Picpoul being the grape varietal, and the word meaning, ‘pucker up.’ Fitting, since this wine was extremely high acid, but with Chardonnay-like fruit flavors, green apple and pear, while light and crisp and more reminiscent of a lot of Italian whites. Next was a rosé, I believe of Grenache, the 2006 Domaine des 2 Ânes, which translates to ‘two gigantic asses,’ apparently what the vineyard proprietors’ parents called them when they decided to begin making wine in the Languedoc. This was especially dark for a rosé, and had more red wine aromas on the nose than I expected. I was actually quite fond of it; it had a nice raspberry and pink lemonade component on the palate and a good amount of acid, a perfect summer porch wine.

 

We moved on to a pair of easy-drinking red blends that were what I had previously thought of as the archetypical Languedoc wines. I believe both were predominantly Grenache, though I could be mistaken. The first was a lacking on the nose, but on the palette had clear flavors of black cherry, grape, and pomegranate – I want to say dark fruit but not going in the same direction as say a Merlot toward black and purple fruit which tends to have softer flavors, but rather stronger flavored dark-red fruit. The texture was also interesting, it was silky smooth, but at the same time had quite a full body. The second wine had more going on on the nose, specifically a very interesting cotton candy component. The fruit was of the brighter red variety – cranberries, raspberries, and red as opposed to black cherries, and the wine was also a bit lighter in body. Both of these were delicious, not hedonistic fruit bombs, but definitely fruit-dominated wines that still had backbone and complexity. Whereas with the wines from Provence, there was a sophistication and elegance at the center, but the wines almost dared you to not take them too seriously, these Languedoc wines were screaming at you not to take them seriously but still unable to shed their underlying refinement. Think the younger sister in Wedding Crashers – absolutely crazy; but with everything that comes from that high-society modern American equivalent of an aristocracy upbringing; ultimately harmless, not like an off-the-deep-end dangerously rebellious wild child; and most importantly, almost certainly a hell of a lot of fun.

 

One of the most important things I learned at school this week is that I really like Carignan, and that most people don’t. I remember having one or two Carignans before and being especially high on them. Tonight we tasted the 2004 Les Camuzeilles. Of the eight of us, I was the only one who did not find the nose extremely disagreeable. The consensus was that the wine tasted much better than it smelled, though again I believe I was the only one who enthusiastically liked it. The wine was infected with Brettanomyces, a particular type of yeast that I had thought was always a flaw, though I discovered that I actually liked the aromas and flavors it imparted. Besides the obvious barnyard component on the nose, there was also an aroma that someone identified as antibiotic-like. As my olfactory memory began to kick in, it was unmistakably Amoxicillin, the fluorescent pink antibiotic with its bubblegum flavors that I used to look forward to getting ear infections as a kid just so I could have this stuff. There was also cured meat thing going on, and not just simple bacon, this was like walking into a charcuterie. On the palette, there were the same gorgeous red fruit flavors as the last two wines, but here they shared the stage with this chocolate, almond, coconut set of flavors. The powerful aromas from the nose persisted on the palette, but gradually became mellower as the other flavors emerged. This wine was right up my alley, but I could see how a lot of people would dislike it.

 

Next was a Syrah from Montmirat that I wasn’t especially crazy about. It was very dark, and had a good amount of black and purple fruit, a nice mocha component, a bit of cinnamon, and this cold fireplace thing on the nose, but to me it tasted a little fake. All the parts were there but it just didn’t seem like it was put together well. Stylistically it was a lot like Northern Rhone Syrah, but just not as refined. Finally, we finished up with a dessert wine, the 2006 Domaine de La Rectorie “Cuvée Léon Rarcé” Vin Doux Naturel, a Banyuls, which is a fortified red wine similar in style to Port from the Rousillon. It was actually very good, not incredibly complex, but certainly seductive. What I liked about this wine is its potential to appeal to a broader range of drinkers; compared to Port it lies closer on the spectrum to a still table wine.

 

I have my suspicions that the Languedoc-Rousillon is going to be the quantum mechanics of my wine education. The first time, you think you get it. The second time, you are confused again and realize what you thought you understood, you do not. By the third time, you realize you most likely will never get the whole thing and it’s just a matter of holding enough of the pieces together at once to feign an understanding. Maybe I’m exaggerating, because I do feel like I’ve come away with a better idea of the region and its styles, but with nowhere near the same level of confidence as I have with everything else I’ve explored thus far. Perhaps this is to be expected from the largest wine producing region in the world. What I do know though is that these wines are fun, widely appealing (except maybe the Carignan), and great value. Maybe that’s all I need for now.

 

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One Response to “The Languedoc-Rousillon”

  1. mroconnell Says:

    Love the quantum mechanics metaphor. That is seriously how this place feels sometimes.

    Ryan
    Love That Languedoc

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