How do you tell a great winemaker? For me it is not by tasting their flagship wines, the top-of-the-range stuff that costs €50 or more. Given the finest grapes and a generous budget, even the average winemaker can come up with something drinkable. But many struggle to come up with good everyday wines at a reasonable price.
This week, two successful, innovative producers making attractive wines for every budget. Both are based in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, in southern France, the source of many inexpensive wines. Both make some seriously good wines, but, given that it’s January and we’re probably all feeling the post-Christmas pinch, we’ll concentrate on the less expensive.
Laurent Miquel’s family has been in the business since 1790, but he wasn’t always sure if he wanted to follow the previous seven generations. Instead, he studied engineering in France and took a master’s in quality assurance at Leeds University before working with Nissan in Sunderland.
He finally caught the wine bug, returned to France to study oenology, and made his first wine in 1996. The business has been a huge success.
“It is much easier to sell Chablis, champagne or New Zealand Sauvignon,” says Miquel, “but in the Languedoc, we offer diversity, personality and real value for money. We make very fresh, very drinkable wines, and slowly we have built up a solid base of consumers. We are always driven by quality; 80 per cent of what we do is about the vines and the grapes.”
The wines have been stocked by SuperValu, Tesco and Marks & Spencer, and are currently sold by both Dunnes Stores and O’Briens.
The Mas family
The Mas family has been growing grapes and making wine since the late 19th century. In 1987 Jean-Claude Mas received 35 hectares of vines from which he built Domaines Paul Mas, a group of nine estates scattered around Languedoc-Roussillon. In addition, he makes eight signature ranges, including the Arrogant Frog wines, that will be familiar to many. (The wines are usually very good.)
His Château de Martinolles, in Limoux, has featured in this column several times, as have other of his wines, and you will find his bottles in Ireland’s best wine shops and restaurants.
As Mas owns about 650 hectares of vineyards and controls a further 1,312, he has been able to supply some of the biggest supermarkets in Ireland and Britain. He has also supplied a number of Aldi’s Exquisite labels, as well as the Limoux below.
Astélia Limoux 2016 13.5%, €10.99
It may look like as if it has come in a perfume bottle, but this wine (from Jean-Claude Mas) is a rich, full-bodied, buttery Chardonnay with ripe peach fruits and a dry finish. Perfect with salmon or chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce. Meursault for those on a budget? From Aldi
Claude Val Rouge 2016, Pays d’Oc, Organic 13.5%, €14, or two for €22
A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Merlot, this medium- to full-bodied wine has rich dark fruits, a touch of spice and a nice, lightly tannic grip. Not one to sip on its own, but perfect with red or white meats on cold winter evenings. From Molloys Liquor Stores
Laurent Miquel, Père et Fils Chardonnay Viognier 2016 13%, €9.50
Medium-bodied with fresh lemon zest and succulent peach and apricot fruits. Perfect on its own, but this would go nicely with plaice, sole or sea bass. I had mine with fishcakes. From select Dunnes Stores
Laurent Miquel, Père et Fils Syrah Grenache 2016, IGP Pays d’Oc 13%, €9.50
The Syrah adds delicious, subtle pepper, liquorice and dark fruits, the Grenache a soft warmth. Together they make for a lovely smooth wine with juicy ripe fruits. On its own or with lighter red-meat dishes. From select Dunnes Stores