First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 26th October, 2019
The Languedoc is like an old friend. It was the first wine region I visited (under a metre of snow!), and I have been back countless times for both work and leisure.
Most of this vast region is both beautiful and uncrowded, perfect for a timeless, stress-free holiday. Despite the influx of tourists and foreign residents, it always seems less developed than neighbouring Provence, with a character all its own. House prices are reasonable and its weather is considerably better than our own. And it makes some great wines.
Despite a government-sponsored vine-pull programme, the Languedoc remains the largest single vineyard region in the world, with 30,000 growers farming 300,000 hectares, or 741,000 acres, of vines. It produces roughly a third of all French wine, far more than Bordeaux. These days the term Languedoc includes the Roussillon as well, reaching from the Spanish border to Montpellier.
As holidaymakers will be well aware, there is no shortage of cheap glugging wines; the Languedoc has more than 300 co-operatives that are responsible for 80 per cent of all production. These days the wines are a lot better, ranging in price and style, and many are fantastic value. The inexpensive, slightly rustic reds are great everyday dinner wines over the winter months. But for me the real excitement starts with the plethora of small estates making some seriously exciting wines. This week’s four wines are made by genuine artisan producers. The wines are not all blockbusters, either.
Not surprisingly given its size, the Languedoc has a vast array of soils and climates. As a result, virtually every red and white grape has been planted, sometimes with spectacular results. Cooler regions are making increasingly good wines from grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, alongside traditional red varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan. White wines account for only about 10 per cent of production, but they are still worth checking out; Picpoul de Pinet is growing in popularity, and Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourbelenc, Roussanne and Marsanne all show real promise.
Every shop will have some inexpensive wines from the Languedoc. Dunnes Stores has always stocked a strong range at all price levels, and, if you really want to splash out, Wines Direct (winesdirect.ie) has two of the region’s greatest wines, Domaine de l’Hortus and Mas Jullien, among many other gems, and Red Nose Wines (rednosewine.com, curiouswines.ie) has the region’s flagship Mas de Daumas Gassac wines.
Domaine de la Sarabande ‘Misterioso’ 2016, Faugérès
A lovely rich, smooth, warming wine with masses of delicious ripe, dark fruits and a savoury touch of black olives and some dried herbs. The Languedoc in a glass. Eat with posh sausages, or a roast of pork.
From Mitchell & Son, Dublin 1, Sandycove, Co Dublin, and at Avoca in Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, and Dunboyne, Co Meath, mitchellandson.com
Château Coupe-Roses Les Plots 2017, Minervois (biodynamic)
A light, elegant Minervois with subtle, restrained dark fruits, a savoury edge and an easy, dry finish. Try it with parmigiana di melanzane or charcuterie.
From Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, Dublin 2, Kells, Co Meath, and Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com; siyps.com; Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3, clontarfwines.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie
Domaine Saint Antonin Faugérès, Cazalet 2017 (organic)
A very moreish, smooth, rounded wine with very attractive dark fruits and touches of liquorice and dried herbs. Great with most red meats, but I drank my bottle with lightly spiced Moroccan lamb meatballs.
From Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; Cabot and Co, Westport, Co Mayo, cabotandco.com
Pinot Noir Les Petits Apôtres 2018, Domaine de Bon Augures, Pays d’Hérault (biodynamic)
A delightful, light, pure, delicate Pinot Noir with vibrant, crunchy dark cherries. Piquant and very delicious, this opened up beautifully over the course of an evening. Feathered birds of all kinds; turkey, chicken or duck.
From Cabot and Co, Westport, Co Mayo, cabotandco.com; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin, onthegrapevine.ie; No 1 Pery Square, Limerick, oneperysquare.com