February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

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February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Robin Garr » Sun Feb 04, 2007 7:23 pm

Belatedly, the formal announcement: This month's Wine Focus features wines of the Coteaux du Languedoc in general, with particularly attention - if you can find them - for wines from Pic Saint Loup, a sub-region particularly known for robust reds that typically feature plenty of Syrah along with other usual suspects - Carignan, Mourvèdre and Grenache.

Here's a bit of ancient history, a short article based on a talk and tasting I presented in 1999. Most of it's still true, so let's revisit it today. Feel free to add more recent developmens and nuances if you like!

The Languedoc

<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics/languedoc.gif" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table><i>The following article is summarized from a talk and tasting presented by Robin Garr at the March 12, 1999 annual meeting of Sister Cities of Louisville Inc. Louisville and Montpellier, capital city of the Hérault region of Languedoc, have enjoyed a "sister city" relationship for some 50 years.</i>

Languedoc is one of the largest wine regions in France in terms of acreage, production and the relative importance of wine producing to the local economy. Until quite recently, though, size didn't equate to respect, and the wines of this region were lightly regarded at best. Languedoc made a lot of wine, but it was almost invariably simple table wine: Maybe one step up from the raw stuff that came from Algeria ... but not a giant step.

As recently as 1981 -- when I was <i>The Louisville Times</i>' City Hall reporter and followed the late and then-controversial Louisville Mayor Bill Stansbury and his cronies on what they called a "trade mission" to Montpellier -- they looked closely at the region's wine as a potential export.

In fact, it took this idea another 15 years or so to come to pass. It's only in very recent times, with a boom in high-end, quality wine around the world, that some of Languedoc's top producers are starting to produce and export fine, dry table wines competitive in a world market -- wines like the four we're tasting tonight.

But while Languedoc's wines may not have always been good, its wine industry has certainly been big. With three-quarters of a million acres of land in vineyards, Languedoc alone has more vineyard acreage than all of the United States, and one-third of all the vineyards in France. A great deal of that is still simple jug and tank wines, however; with one-third of the vines, Languedoc produces only 10 percent of the nation's AOC wines, the top-end products with controlled-appellation status. Again, the wines we're sampling this evening reflect that tip-of-the-iceberg group.

These wines also boast roots very deep in history. The vineyards that thrive on the hilly slopes along a Mediterranean coastal arc from Narbonne east to Montpellier, the wine regions we now know as Corbieres, Minervois and Coteaux du Languedoc claim a continuous history of more than 2,000 years, dating back to early Roman settlements along the coast.

I've always found Languedoc's red wines more interesting than their whites, although the Picpoul de Pinet we tasted this evening shows enough character to earn a place as a highly respectable white.

The reds tend to be dry, hearty and robust, with fragrant peppery aromas and flavors and often a strong herbal quality of lavendar and thyme that supposedly evokes the <i>garrigues</i>, the lovely natural herbal scent that many of you will remember smelling as you hike the countryside around Montpellier.

All of tonight's reds come from the hillsides of the Coteaux du Languedoc, a sort of hilly amphitheater that faces southward in a broad ring that encompasses Montpellier and the seacoast. If you'll visualize the palm of your right hand as a map of the region, with the city of Montpellier and the seacoast as the base of your palm, then you'll find the way to Saint-Chinian at the tip of your little finger, Faugères on your ring finger, Montpeyroux on your first finger and Pic Saint Loup on your thumb.

The Carignan grape is probably most commonplace in the region and is a player in just about all its red wines, but the top labels, including most of today's selections, add -- and are improved by -- doses of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.
Last edited by Robin Garr on Mon Mar 05, 2007 1:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Bob Ross » Sun Feb 04, 2007 7:58 pm

Parker introduced me to wines from Pic St. Loup over ten years ago with this glowing review:

1994 Mortiès Pic Saint-Loup Conteaux du Languedoc France. $12.99 at Fort Lee; highly recommended by Carlo Russo. Eric Solomon European Cellars Selection.

Parker 92. Bertelli: RMP 92 Sale $10.99. This wine tastes like it should cost $45.00! Made from 100% Syrah and aged in 100% new oak casks , it is not significantly different from a profound, singularly great Côte Rôtie such as Guigal's legendary La Mouline. Six-hundred cases of this unfiltered wine were made, and it is only a matter of time before the price will rise for this unequivocally spectacular offering. From its huge nose of smoky bacon fat and over-ripe cassis flavors intertwined with earth and toasty new oak, this is a knock-out, expansive, velvety-textured Syrah that is already delicious and complex. Run, don't walk to the handful of merchants who will have access to this marvelous wine. Exceptional value! 4*.

Wines from the area have been an enjoyable companions with several meals over the next ten years; this is a note from a year ago:

1990 Château La Toque Pic-St.-Loup Languedoc France. A blend of 60 percent Syrah and 40 percent Mourvèdre, this was a very nice but “quiet” wine — quite enjoyable, smooth, soft without being flabby; very clean and with less garrigue than I would have expected. Very nice, though. 3*.

And, from a note last September:

Mas de Fournel Pic Saint Loup 2004 France. $8.99 from a store in Philadelphia -- Market Street Wineshop I think -- we needed an inexpensive red wine for an rustic French "picnic" after a craft show and this was a perfect choice.

Deep red color, deep hue, lovely fruit and spice aromas and taste, garrigue to the nth degree, full mouth feel, good tannins and a bit of acidity, long finish -- great bargain. Lively and fun. 4*.

Notes: Pic Saint Loup is the appellation, and is named after the mountain of the same name; Mas de Fournel is owned by Gerard Jeanjean. The blend is 70% Syrah and 30% Grenache.

Importer link here with some more about Mas de Fournel.
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Re: February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Bob Ross » Sun Feb 04, 2007 10:08 pm

Robin, one point that is a change since your last review of the area was reported by Jancis Robinson last November:

Coteaux du Languedoc disappears...

The AC Coteaux du Languedoc has now been officially replaced by the massive appellation Languedoc which includes all the terrain officially classified as AC in not just the Languedoc region but all of Roussillon as well.

This last development presumably gives those individual appellations such as Pic St Loup and Picpoul de Pinet which used to fall within the embrace of Coteaux du Languedoc a step up in status, effectively equalising them with other stand-alone appellations such as Minervois and Corbières, but it seems a great shame to me that there is a danger of Roussillon culture and wines, so very distinctive and different from those of the Languedoc, losing their identity.

The wines sold as Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages will be easy to spot as all-Roussillon wine, but from now on presumably we may encounter AC Languedoc wines which contain all-Roussillon wine, or Minervois mixed with Côtes du Roussillon, or Minervois and Corbières combined in the same bottle. The new super-region takes in virtually all of the central south of France, from the Spanish border almost to Avignon. I can't really see the point, except for the odd big bottler who wants to build a branded AC Languedoc wine.


I don't remember seeing this change discussed on WLDG or WLP, but I might well have missed it. Apologies, if so.

Regards, Bob
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Re: February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:21 am

Bob Ross wrote:Robin, one point that is a change since your last review of the area was reported by Jancis Robinson last November:

Coteaux du Languedoc disappears...


Whoa! I try very hard to keep up on changes of that consequence, Bob, but that one got by me completely! <gulp>

Maybe we ought to continue trying to focus this month, though, on the appellations that highlight the "traditional" Coteaux, including Pic Saint Loup and Montpeyroux but excluding St. Chinian, Faugères, Minervois and the others farther west ... just for the sake of, well, "focus."

In order to avoid throwing everything into a mess in a short month that's already under way, let's continue to accept for Focus anything that's got Coteaux du Languedoc on the label, even with the new understanding that - absent label language to the contrary - we don't know where within the broad region it came from.

Anyway, good catch! And thanks very much for leaping in with this important update.
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Re: February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Bob Ross » Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:37 am

Right on, Robin. Here's my first note on a wine from Montpeyroux, a wonderful tasting several years ago. The 1995 has shown well every year or two since. I love Kane's note!

1995 Domaine L’Aiguelière Montpeyroux Côte Rousse Coteaux du Languedoc France. [Unfiltered and unfined. 12.5% alcohol on the French label; 13.0% on the English label. Imported by Michael Skurnik, Syosset, NY.] Deep red color; deep hue; lovely aroma of fruit with strong brett – some folks nearby were neighing; lovely complex tastes of fruit, garrigue and spice, again with the brett; well balanced tannins and light acidity; medium mouth feel, velvet and soft; long finish with several fruit and herbal notes, and of course the brett. Excellent food wine! Several people were put off by the brett – but I found this a delicious wine and a quite reasonable value for its quality at $30 to $35 a bottle. T4*.


[BTW: as a former farm boy, that isn’t horse poop – more like modestly rotted Brown Swiss cow poop.]

I bought the wine and brought it to the tasting on the recco of a friend ITB: "If you haven't latched on yet, you should grab some of the L'Aiguelieres too, while they're around. Fabulous wines. Two different bottlings; Côte Doree and Côte Rousse. Same vineyard, different oak treatment and vinification. One guy bought 30 bottles of each! Check out my blurb in the flier."

Kane: Purplish garnet color with a wonderful snoutful of smoked meat, flowers, black raspberries, licorice and roasted herb aromas. On the palate, a powerhouse of a wine. Monstrous, furry tannins with excellent concentration. Lots of things going on in this wine. Smoked meat, rosemary, tar and black raspberries dominate. Well balanced with a long finish. Delicious stuff! Solid A.


Wonderful wine! But, the last vintage I've seen was the 2000 Côte Doree. I'm not sure whether it's still made, or whether it is released long after the vintage.

Regards, Bob
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Re: February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:41 am

Great note there Bob R. I am a tad confused however, is La Clape fair game this month please?
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Re: February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Bob Ross » Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:46 am

I'm sorry, Bob -- La Clape? I don't think I've ever had one.

Not that that would ever stop me from having an opinion on the wine, or even posting a tasting note on one. :)

But I don't think I did.
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Re: February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Robin Garr » Mon Feb 05, 2007 10:37 am

Bob Parsons Alberta. wrote:Great note there Bob R. I am a tad confused however, is La Clape fair game this month please?


Bob, La Clape, located between Narbonne and Bèziers (see the little map in the first post on this thread), would indeed qualify, even under the old definition, because it's within the limits of the old Coteaux du Languedoc.

For the purposes of learning, just be aware that it's not very close to the Pic Saint Loup and Montpeyroux that we're focusing on closely this month. But it's certainly reasonably similar in style, and nobody will yell at you if you post on it. :)
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Re: February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Bob Ross » Mon Feb 05, 2007 12:42 pm

Thanks, Robin.

I couldn't find anything about La Clape last night, either in my notes or on the net -- Bob was nice enough to send me a very pretty picture of the vineyard itself. I misread Bob's post, frankly.

I should have searched on Wine Searcher Pro -- all would have been clear. :)

I did know about Auguste Clape, the Cornas winemaker, but not about La Clape.

Regards, and thanks, Bob
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Re: February 2007: Coteaux du Languedoc

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Mon Feb 05, 2007 11:36 pm

Another sub-area (?) that features Languedoc on the label is Gres de Montpellier. (Think why oh why is this getting so complicated?). Anyhows have a recent purchase in the cellar so might just open for the sake of this months thread!!
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