I hope that Bob will succeed in drawing in some real experts to participate in this thread as he did with the Portugal Wine Focus; it made a big difference there. Meanwhile let me try and flesh out from my sketchy knowledge some of Robin’s introduction.
Languedoc, Roussillon and, to a less extent, Provence are the most innovative and dynamic wine regions in France, if not in the whole of Europe. This is in large part due to the fact that, being relatively new entrants to the quality wine world, they are much less constrained by tradition than the longer established regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. The vine has been cultivated in these regions since Roman times but until about the 1980s, wines of Languedoc/Roussillon were mainly produced for bulk sale as “vin ordinaire” or for adding body and alcohol to wines with more famous names further North and the wine of Provence were overwhelmingly dull rosé for quaffing by tourists along the Mediterranean coasts. Certain quality oases were, however, known during those times, for example the Vins Doux Naturels (“VDN” = sweet fortified wines) from Roussillon, Palette near Aix-en-Provence (where Château Simone has long been known for whites of exceptional finesse and fine reds and rosés) and Bandol between Marseille and Toulon.
The picture has been transformed in the last generation and most of the AOCs in Robin’s introduction are of relatively recent origin and are subject to more change in the near future, particularly in Languedoc.
The red wines made in these appellations are usually made from a classical cocktail of Mediterranean grape varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault but with authorised proportions varying from appellation to appellation; Bordeaux varieties are allowed and indeed are an essential part of the typicity in Cabardès and Cabernet Sauvignon is present in some wines in minority proportions in Coteaux des Baux, Coteaux d’Aix and Côtes de Provence.
The white AOC wines, which have made even more spectacular progress than the reds, are made from Mediterranean varieties such as Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Macabeu (Roussillon), Viognier, Clairette (Provence); Chardonnay and Chenin appear in Limoux where the Chard from Domaine Mouscaillou gives stiff competition to much white Burgundy. Authorised varieties and their proportions vary perhaps even more widely than with the reds from appellation to appellation.
AOCs are far from telling the whole story in these regions. Many very fine wines are marketed as Vins de Pays (“VDP”) where the rules allow far greater flexibility with grape varieties than they do in the AOCs and may be sold under varietal labels. Indeed some people would argue that the VDP sector is the most dynamic in Languedoc and Roussillon because growers here seem much less reluctant to leave the AOC comfort zone than they are in other parts of France.
Quality is all over the place with a lot of wine from the plains still being sold in bulk at very low prices (growers of such wines often demonstrate violently to persuade the state to subsidise them to make bad wine). There are also a number of branded wines coming out of the area, such as those from Robert Skalli which are reportedly not bad. For real wine-lovers, therefore, it is perhaps even more important than in most regions to learn the names of reliable quality producers as well as where the better terroirs are located, more often than not on hillsides. The trouble about going with known names is that it is unfair to a lot of ambitious younger producers who are struggling to make their names to make ends meet. Hopefully, in the USA and UK, wine merchants offering wines from these regions have screened out mediocre wines and offer only good ones, helping the quality conscious younger growers in the process like the Cave des Oblats does here in Liège; supermarkets who need large quantities are less likely to offer that reassurance.
A comment often heard, indeed I have said it myself, is that these regions offer a great variety of robust wines representing excellent QPR for everyday drinking but no “great” wines in the sense that Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, Barolo, etc. do. So I offer here a few recent TNs of mine where I think the wines are to close that level, if not already there.
From 2008, Trévallon, a wine now sold as VDP des Bouches du Rhône. (The story is told that the estate was expelled from the appellation which owner Eloi Dürrbach helped to create because of his refusal to plant a single Grenache vine to compensate from excessive Cabernet-Sauvignon.)
Domaine de Trévallon – AOC Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence Les Baux (then) - 1989 – Alc. 12% - ( € 43,50 for 2005) - made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah roughly 50/50.
I have read complaints about Trévallon in other threads, particularly about brett; also comparisons with Château Musar. It is true that owner Eloi Dürrbach likes living dangerously with brett and VA and without the blessing of the appellation authorities (now), but in this particular bottle everything comes into an exciting balance even though I suspect the presence of both those controversial elements.
C: Medium depth garnet with some bricking.
N: Beautifully integrated and brightly complex aromas with raspberry, cherry, plum, garrigue herbs, varnish, autumnal forest floor and wet leather all blended together with no elements dominant.
P: Not spectacularly big but replaying the aromas from the nose in a harmoniously elegant way showing both brightness and generous depth, velvety mouth-feel, firm but resolved structure and classical shape with crescendo towards the finish followed by a long diminuendo as the aromas fade away gently. This is perfect in its way and the best Trévallon which I have ever opened though some of its predecessors were pretty good; I could have drunk another bottle; 18/20+.
Opened last week cold from the cellar after a CndP Reflets de Mont-Olivet 95 stank of cabbage and sour port and a Gigondas 98 was corked, it was perhaps even better than the bottle subject of this TN from October last year which I have left unchanged. I think this now approaches 18/20.
Coteaux du Languedoc 1998 – Mas Jullien, Terrasses du Larzac – Alc.14% (€21 for 2006), made currently from equal parts of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan.
Unlike most from Languedoc, the wines of this estate have harmony and elegance together with an aptitude to improve with age. This bottle was an outstanding example like a 1989 a year or so ago. It was more robust and less evolved than my memory and TN of an earlier bottle of 1998 in January 2010 and therefore even more lovely with unusual elegance for the region. The aromas on the nose and plate showed primary fruit, some sweet cherry, at first but with airing red rose, Southern herbs, anise and some mint, tar and leather came up and pushed the fruit into the background. Body was medium to full, the palate was well focussed, harmonious with gentle acidity, classically shaped and quite mouth-filling and long with ripe tannic support for the finish. The high alcohol was unobtrusive and a bottle like this could hold for some time to come; 17.5/20+.
From February 2010
Palette Grand Cru de Provence 2001 (white) – Château Simone, near Aix-en-Provence – Alc. 12.5% - (€32 for 2007), made from Clairette 80%, Grenache, Ugni and Muscat. I always think that Ch.Simone is one of the finest whites from the South of France and this bottle was no exception. It was showing considerable complexity and breed with gently burnished notes of wax, discreet exotic fruit and acacia on a medium/full bodied palate with good length, gentle fruit and minerals, smooth/lively acidity and some backbone. The overall effect was elegant and classy; 17/20++.
From December 2009 –
Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 1996 – Domaine de la Grange des Pères – Alc. 13.8% - (€50+ for a new vintage), made from Syrah 40%, Mourvèdre 40%, CabSauv 20% and bottled without filtering.
This bottle had something quite Musar-like, as does Trévallon sometimes, albeit fuller bodied and more powerful. There was a similar discreet lacing of barnyard and VA, which did not dominate but which together added a layer of dark complexity and elegant brightness. As well as this there were complex aromas of plum, cherry, white flowers, some violet and cedar with good depth, full body, freshness and length. The overall impression was a seductive combination of power and lively elegance. On a previous occasion at a club tasting, I complained of accentuation of the volatility, darkening of the flavours and increased bitterness of tannins as the evening progressed but there was none of that this time. (Perhaps we drank the bottle too quickly for these faults to appear but I don’t think so because the bottle with heal taps still smells quite fresh two days later.) A Languedoc classic; 17/20+.
Last edited by Tim York
on Wed Feb 02, 2011 3:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.