The Languedoc-Rousillon Rises

Despite numerous attempts, you cannot pigeonhole the Languedoc. Over the past decade, it has been described as “France’s leading source of good value wine”, “an epicentre of inexpensive rosé” and “the modern miracle of Gallic regional transformation.” All of this is true. And yet, none of it is.

The prevailing trend has been to focus on the Languedoc’s leap into quality wine status. For decades, this great sweep of vines around France’s central Mediterranean coastline was renowned for its coarse, alcoholic infuriator. It is the world’s largest wine producer, with vineyards stretching in all directions from the city of Narbonne to Lunel, a town located east of Montpellier. More than 300,000 hectares of vines were easily able to supply oversized grapes for distillation, grape concentrate and gallons of plonk.

However, when the market for cheap and nasty Languedoc wine started to collapse in the 1990s – mainly due to competition from the New World – things had to change. Realising that there was increasingly little money to be made from vin ordinaire, a younger generation of globe-trotting winemakers adopted a new approach. They brought a more international outlook and fresh ideas to Languedoc wines across the board. The result was an explosion in quality, which is riding an upward curve today.

Yet this doesn’t tell the whole story. As with all French regions, indifferent and poor wines remain. It would be disingenuous to claim that every winemaker in the Languedoc is interested in quality. Neither is the region a ceaseless Valhalla of “good value wine”. Winemakers like Gerard Bertrand have put that myth to bed. Some very expensive and prestigious bottles are being made in this corner of France. To make the case, Bertrand sent his prized labels to a presidential dinner hosted by Emmanuel Macron in China in 2019. Choice vintages of Chateau l’Hospitalet and Cigalus – both reds – were offered alongside the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy. “What further proof do you need?” asks Gerard Bertrand.

“This categorically illustrates that the Languedoc is considered a fine wine region.”

You’ve probably heard that Languedoc rosé is delicious and offers fantastic value. That’s often the case. But remember that France’s most expensive rosé wine, Clos du Temple, is also made in the region. Produced by Bertrand, it is priced at over £180.00. I’ve tried it once. There is no finer rosé on the planet.

But you may have missed Rousillon. Far more than simply a suffix to the Languedoc, the adjoining region is today making some of the most exciting wines in the South of France. The vineyards carpet a dramatic landscape, which stretches out from the city of Perpignan to within touching distance of the Spanish border. It’s all here: snow-covered peaks of the Canigou, low-yielding bush vines, high altitude sites and spectacular topography. Wines like Le Soula demonstrate, beyond any doubt, that the best vineyards are capable of producing bottled magic.

The Languedoc-Rousillon is stuffed full of independent wine appellations and sub-regions. They’re important, and yet inconsequential. The most exciting wines tend to be made by individuals first and regions second. Often first-generation wine producers, this firmament have sought out poor soils that cannot grow much, save vines. Indeed, the Languedoc-Rousillon is today the only major French wine region where a significant number of producers are increasingly sidelining appellation frameworks in favour of the IGP designation. It is this freedom to make wines outside of the traditional appellation frameworks, that many regard as the region’s most important USP.

In that sense, the Languedoc-Rousillon is nothing like Bordeaux. However, in other ways, the two regions share much in common. Both French vineyards offer lavishly expensive wines and a smattering of turgid plonk. More importantly, both regions boast a critical mass of producers who are releasing excellent bottles at fair prices. Although such brands lack the hype of Clos du Temple and Lafite, they’re the reason why wine remains simultaneously thrilling and accessible. There is a wealth of affordable fine wine being made in the Languedoc-Rousillon today. The following bottles make the case admirably. With just a few pricey examples, thrown in for fun.

Clos du Temple Rose Gerard Bertrand 2018 Languedoc wine
Clos du Temple

The price tag always causes a stunned silence. Who else but Gerard Bertrand would dare to charge over £190 for a bottle of rosé! Everyone always enquires: is it worth it? That’s a very subjective question, but there is no doubting the exquisite textural quality and depth of flavour that leaps out of this wine. Beautifully scented and expertly made, Clos du Temple is the Montrachet of rosé wine.

What: Clos du Temple Rose Gerard Bertrand 2018
Where: Hedonism Wines
How much: £198

Gerard Bertrand Clos d'Ora Minervois La Liviniere 2016 Languedoc wine
Clos d’Ora

It’s another superstar red, from the man who refuses to ever compromise on quality. Expensive, Clos du Ora is possibly one of the finest wines being made in the Languedoc today. A heady blend of syrah, grenache and carignan, the wine is powerful, structured and incredibly complex. Approachable now, it will benefit from a few years’ bottle age.

What: Gerard Bertrand Clos d’Ora Minervois La Liviniere 2016
Where: Hic! Wine Merchants
How much: £170

Le Soula Rouge Languedoc wine
Le Soula Rouge

This is very special. A contender for Rousillon’s greatest red, Le Soula is partly owned by Mark Walford, a British wine importer and longtime aficionado of the region. Using biodynamic grapes cultivated in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Walford and his team produce a refined, racy red of Burgundian proportions. Carignan, grenache and syrah combine to spectacular effect. If this doesn’t engender a conversion, then nothing will.

What: Le Soula Rouge
Where: Mayfly Wine Co
How much: £27 (min order 16 bottles)

Gerard Bertrand Cigalus Blanc 2019 Languedoc wine
Cigalus Blanc

Now, this is a bargain. One of the Languedoc’s greatest white wines for under £30.00. A mix of chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc, Cigalus is a beautiful and ripe expression of three A-list grape varieties. Judiciously oaked, the wine is a pungent delight, offering explosive aromas of passion fruit, peach, coconut and mango on the nose. It deserves haute gastronomy.

What: Gerard Bertrand Cigalus Blanc 2019
Where: Strictly Wine
How much: £25

Chateau de Lascaux Les Nobles Pierres 2016 Languedoc wine
Chateau de Lascaux Les Nobles Pierres

For under £25, you’re getting one hell of a wine. Refined and yet powerful, Lascaux produces some of the best reds in the Languedoc. A mosaic of red and black fruit awaits, supported by supple tannins and a fine acid line. It deserves 5-star dinner table treatment.

What: Chateau de Lascaux Les Nobles Pierres 2016
Where: St JOHN Restaurant
How much: £24

Domaine de Villeneuve Chant des Roches Pic Saint Loup Rouge 2015 Languedoc wine
Domaine de Villeneuve Chant des Roches Pic Saint Loup Rouge

Fresh, vibrant and fruit-driven, it’s wines like Chant des Roches which keep British oenophiles coming back for more. Aged for 24 months in barrique, the wine is both structured and approachable. Aromas of garrigue and red berries burst out of the glass. Snap it up!

What: Domaine de Villeneuve Chant des Roches Pic Saint Loup Rouge 2015
Where: Homewood Delights
How much: £23

Maison Ventenac Dissidents ‘Candide’

At a recent tasting, this wine silenced all critics of Languedoc whites. Attractively priced, this 100% Chenin Blanc wine is something very special. Unoaked and made with care and precision, the chalky terroir comes shining through in this playful, fruit-driven expression of the Chenin Blanc grape. Graceful, aromatic and complex, it will benefit from some aeration before serving.

What: Maison Ventenac Dissidents ‘Candide’ Chenin Blanc 2020
Where: Oxford Wine
How much: £22

Chateau Fabre Gasparets Corbieres Boutenac

Once considered supermarket fodder, the wines of Corbieres have been elevated to the top ranks of the Languedoc. Wines like Gasparets have made that possible. Carignan, Syrah and Mourvedre enjoy a happy marriage in this beautiful wine, bringing black fruits, spices, vanilla and capsicum. Perfect with summer BBQs.

What: Chateau Fabre Gasparets Corbieres Boutenac 2017
Where: Noble Green Wines
How much: £22

Mas des Brousses Terrasses de Larzac

Renowned critic Jancis Robinson had the following to say about this wine. “This really smells of Larzac with its stones and dried herbs. Really dense and serious with lots of potential for ageing.” I’d add that the red/ black fruit profile is both intense and delicious, with a racy acidity that sits at the heart of this blend. Approachable and open, this would stand to age for another 3-4 years.

What: Mas des Brousses, Terrasses du Larzac 2017
Where: Stone, Vine & Sun
How much: £20

Chateau d’Angles Grand Vin White

This is what happens when you mix the expertise of Chateau Lafite with Languedoc terroir. Made by Lafite’s former winemaker Eric Faber, this delicious white is racy, pungent and effortlessly drinkable. Produced from old vines, the wine shows a pedigree that is rare even in the best wineries in France. Tropical fruit and a velvety texture await.

What: Chateau d’Angles Grand Vin White 2016
Where: Pierre Hourlier Wines
How much: £18

Chateau d’Angles Grand Vin Red

Mourvedre, grenache and syrah never tasted so good. Chateau d’Angles takes three cornerstone Languedoc grape varieties and produces something far greater than the sum of its parts. Elegant and refined, the suave tannins support a generous palate of red and black fruit. Divine.

What: Chateau d’Angles Grand Vin Red 2017
Where: Pierre Hourlier Wines
How much: £18

Chateau Paul Mas Belluguette

This exotic blend would be unthinkable in Burgundy. However, as owner Jean-Claude Mas likes to point out, the Languedoc is not afraid of challenging convention. “It’s important to remember that the Languedoc has fewer traditions to respect than say Burgundy, and so winemakers in the region are far more willing to experiment and innovate than in other parts of France,” he says. Mas’ current passion is producing sulphur-free and low- sulphite wines; Mas makes a lovely sulphite-free Chardonnay. But this is my favourite white: Bellugette. It mixes up marsanne, grenache blanc and viognier with real aplomb. Delicious and amazingly affordable.

What: Chateau Paul Mas ‘Belluguette’ 2017
Where: Soho Wine Supply
How much: £15



Title image © Dernier Matin.