By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 27 June 2020
There have been phenomenal changes in the wines of the Languedoc in the last twenty-five years – and it is now one of the most exciting hunting grounds in Europe for passionate vine growers with newcomers arriving from across the globe.
Land is a-plenty here available at a reasonable cost, compared to more classic French regions, and there is so much more to be discovered amongst the complex range of soils and microclimates.
There are subtle ‘terroir’ differences, all within a similar climate, running along the east to west axis of Languedoc’s extensive hill slopes - and there is no doubt that we will see big changes and discoveries again in the next decade as this area is further explored.
Stylistically Languedoc’s wines tend to have more density and ripeness, compared to Rhone or Bordeaux, but the best wines here have a restrained opulence with wild aromatic notes. Now producers are using less oak, wines are becoming more refined.
However - it is hard for the wine lover to know where to look to track down these new growers as they are often so far flung and spread out across this vast region – so I have highlighted a handful of domaines across the Languedoc which are starting to make their mark.
TERRE DES DAMES www.terredesdames.com
Dutch marketing executive Lidewij van Wilgen (pictured above) moved to Murveil-les-Beziers in the Herault back in 2002. She trained as an oenologist and purchased 14 hectares of mature vines across 25 small plots surrounded by ancient stonewalls in a natural amphitheatre of schist and limestone soils, with a wild garrigue backdrop so typical of the area. Nestled just southeast of St Chinian appellation’s border - and not far from Faugeres - she works with Grenache, Carignan and Syrah to craft an excellent range of wines. I find her wines very approachable, compared to some more structured wines from St Chinian. Her entry level La Dame scored highly in our recent tasting.
Best buy: La Dame 2017 Terre des Dames £14 www.woodwinters.com
Juicy red fruits, wild garrigue notes, fresh acidity, soft tannins and not too opulent (as some Languedoc reds can be).
MAS GABRIEL www.mas-gabriel.co.uk
Londoners Peter and Deborah Core decided to follow their dream to own a vineyard. After training in New Zealand and Bordeaux, they bought land at Caux near Pezenas at the foot of the Haut Languedoc national park. Twenty years since leaving London, they are now established with 6.5 hectares (on volcanic basalt which is unusual in Languedoc) using organic and biodynamic methods working with consultant oenologist Sebastien Pardaille. Two reds, two whites and a rose; I particularly liked 3 Terraces red, essentially old vine Carignan, with Grenache and Syrah. They recently offered opportunities to buy a ‘plan’ on www.winefunding.com – to help fund the planting of their new vineyard.
Best buy: Les Trois Terraces 2018 £13.99 www.vinceremos.co.uk
Cassis and wild herb aromas, savoury undertones, lovely balanced freshness.
MAISON VENTENAC www.maisonventenac.fr
Corporate Parisian couple Stephanie and Olivier Rame worked at Remy Cointreau and PricewarehouseCoopers in Paris until 2010. They gave it all up to take over Stephanie’s father’s Languedoc-Roussillon estate in the foothills of the Massif Central, 10 km from Carcassonne. Olivier pivoted his career from accountant to winegrower/winemaker, changed the estate name, labels and philosophy – and today Maison Ventenac are a major player in the Cabardes appellation with a sizeable operation with 130 hectares and have recently bought local Chateau de Ventenac. Most impressive of their Dissidents range is foudre-aged Candide Chenin Blanc and amphorae-aged Puritaine Syrah.
Best buy: Candide Chenin Blanc 2019 £21.50 Oxford Wine; James Nicholson Wine
Very pure lemon and apricot fruit, mouth-watering minerally acidity, quite floral, elegant and long.
CHATEAU LA DOURNIE www.chateauladournie.com
Nestled high on shale hillsides in the north of the large St Chinian appellation, this old C19 family estate with 45 hectares of vineyards in northern St Chinian is now run by the 6th generation of the Stephen family – transferred from mother to daughter for generations. Originally selling its wines under Val d’Orbieu co-operative group, they now bottle and sell their own wines. Their flagship blend of unoaked Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, grown on decayed schist soils typical of St Chinian, is a gem of a Languedoc bargain.
Best buy: Chateau La Dourne 2017 £10.50 www.thewinesociety.com
Taut red cranberry fruit, smoky chalky tannins, opulent mouthfeel, lifted spice and mocha to finish.
DOMAINE GAYDA www.domainegayda.com
The Gayda trio of Tim Ford, Anthony Record and Vincent Chansault originally met in South Africa. Ford was a rose winemaker, Loire-born winemaker Chansault was working in Stellenbosch and Record had just bought an estate in Languedoc Roussillon’s Malepere area near Brugairolles in 2003. Today they own three different terroirs in Languedoc and Roussillon. Their current flagship label is Chemin Moscou is a blend of all three: 72% old vine Syrah, 22% Grenache and 6% Cinsault mainly from limestone soils in Minervois La Liviniere cru, red clay in St-Paul-de-Fenouillet and granite in Latour-de-France. Also check out their cheaper En Passant red in Majestic at £11.99.
Best buy: Chemin de Moscou 2017 £25.99 Majestic Wine; JN Wine
Dark morello cherry nose, rich deep dark spicy fruit, peppery undertones, some grip with vibrant acidity.
CHATEAU D’ANGLES www.chateaudangles.com
Eric Fabre, ex-technical director at Bordeaux Chateau Lafite, headed to the mediterranean coast in 2000, purchasing a historic Mas in Languedoc’s famous cru, La Clape, with a view of the sea. He was first attracted by the red Mourvedre grape which grows well on these coastal vineyards (his Classique Rose is 80% Mourvedre). On arrival here Fabre discovered the wonders of white Bourboulenc grape – as the domaine’s previous owner had planted the grape some 70 years before. La Clape is oddly the only appellation based on Bourboulenc, there are 350 out of France’s 500 hectares grown here. Fabre’s Classique White blend has 50% Bourboulenc which gives freshness and structure, with 30% Grenache Blanc for fruitiness and 10% each of Marsanne and Roussanne for complexity and spice.
Best buy: Chateau d’Angles Classique Blanc 2018 £12.30 Hourlier Wines
Floral lemony, rich smooth palate, herby undertones, zingy salty edge, fresh dry finish.
Join Rose’s Small French Grower Wines virtual tasting on Thursdays 16 & 23 July www.rosemurraybrown.com