Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Languedoc-Roussillon: Perfect Reds for Autumn Picnics

Country pate is well complemented by a southern French wine such as one from Languedoc-Roussillon. Photo by David Blaikie.


, fellow Grape: WineTalk readers. Long time, no see!

For the past few months, I’ve been hard at work traveling the back woods to find excellent unknown vineyards, catching up on research to keep current on the latest viniculture and scouting various festivals to bring you the best and the brightest in wines today.

Picking up where we left off: Those fabulous unsung French wines. How many have heard of the Languedoc-Roussillon region

Oh, poor Languedoc-Roussillon
Too far west to be part of the official Provence region. South of the rugged Gascony. Part of Catalan history, but its barely remembered French side. True home of only the most important textiles of the last century: made in Nimes = de Nimes = denims.

Languedoc-Roussillon (LONG-ge-DOC ROO-si-YON) with its laidback style and unpretentious ways often gets overlooked. Even its wines. Once the pride of southern France for their distinctively rich Petite Syrah, Languedoc-Roussillon wines fell into disrepute as sheer quantity supplanted quality, drowning the region and the EU in a glut of rotgut wine. But that was then.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region, highlighted in red, is now beginning to get its due reward. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons.

If excellence in simplicity is becoming all the rage again, then now is the time for Languedoc-Roussillon! Gone are the wine-glut days. Small, family-owned and operated vineyards invested heavily to recapture a wine typical of the region, forgoing today’s latest rage. Once again, listening to the land is key. The wildly diverse checkerboard soil (terroir), ranging from clay to sand to schist to granite, creates hearty wines made for sausages and olives and baguettes and artisanal cheeses, crafted right down the rue (street).

Varying Varietals
The red wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon region are typically blends of three varietals: Carignan, Syrah and Grenacheh – sometimes with a dash of Mourvédre, Cinsault or Merlot added for balance. Unfamiliar with some of these grapes? Not surprising. French red wines are more often known for the varietals that produce the classic “Bordeaux blend”: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Ahh, that rings a bell! Not to worry.

Castelmauré Col des Vents 2009 and roasted and grilled foods play well off of each other. Photo from

In a nutshell, here are some of the flavors associated with thriving southern France varietals: Carignan-dark, wicked-tart and sometimes bitter (high in tannins, tannic); few wines are 100 percent Carignan. Syrah:  spicy (pepper) and sometimes even a bit smoky. Grenache:  varies too widely to capture in six words. Really. From sweet fruitiness (berries) to spiciness (pepper, cloves) and tobacco in between. Mourvédre-Meaty, smoky and tart (tannic). Often blended with other wines to add heft (structure). Cinsault:   mushrooms and meat.

Merlot – Ahh, yes. Merlot. Black cherries in abundance
See a theme? Languedoc-Roussillon wines tend toward a heavier, chewier, break-out-the-sausages type of flavor with a dash of sugar and fruit to tame its rugged edge. Looking for a delicate unfolding of subtlety? Pass these right on by. Want to know what really works well with bouillabaisse? Uncork away.

La Cardabelle Vin Rouge 2007 needs some company. Photo courtesy of Snooth.

Col des Vents 2009
$13 (

Oh what a delicious little wine! Imagine popping down a few dark berries after eating grilled chicken. Now wash it down with a bit of red wine. The combination of berries and a hint of charcoal swirl with the taste of wine. That’s Castelmauré’s genius: clean flavors that linger (long finish). Perfect for anything roasted or grilled.

La Cardabelle
Vin Rouge 2009
(Côteaux du Languedoc)
$12 (

Some wines are so light that they can be drunk alone. Others are too substantial. They need something. This is one of those wines: hearty, full, fruity, heavy, ever-so-lightly-a-drop-of-honey sweet. Why would anyone sip it by itself? Find a nice chunk of bread, perhaps a bean stew, maybe even a leg of lamb and enjoy.

Domaine Piquemal
Tradition 2009, rouge
(Côte du Roussillon)
$15 Canada (; in France,

Marie-Pierre Piquemal pours her family's wines at the fall Sud de France Wines from Roussillon. Photo by Monica Diaz.

Remember what I said about most Languedoc wines not being particularly subtle? Well, Domaine Piquemal is the exception to prove the rule. A beautiful wine, the seemingly contradictory combination of fruity but not sweet and spicy, but still fruity, play beautifully on the palate, leaving a nice clean finish.

Languedoc-Roussillon wines and produce are gaining popularity these days, largely through Sud de France Developpement-sponsored tastings throughout the globe. Find one nearby at

Next up: Rock the Rieslings, Pt. 1

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