Food Republic’s wine writer Chad Walsh teams with Pascaline Lepeltier, the Master Sommelier and somm at Rouge Tomate in NYC, to taste through wines from southern France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region and select their five most noteworthy bottles. See also: Take A Closer Look At Languedoc Wines With Pascaline Lepeltier.
1. Domaine Gauby ‘Les Calcinaires’ Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes 2012
It was probably not a coincidence that this was our favorite wine of the tasting, as well as the only white. Pascaline was taking a break from the tedious process of packing up and cataloguing the voluminous cellar at Rouge Tomate, which is shortly reopening in a new, as yet undisclosed, location. Distinctly medium-bodied, with great acidity and a beguiling nose lent by the mix of Muscat, Macabeu (or Macabeo) and Chardonnay. One of the most sought-after producers in Rousillon, the father and son team of Gérard and Lionel Gauby only began bottling their own wines in the mid 1980s. They have two parcels, both of which are situated in valleys between Corbières to the east and the Pyrenées to the west, and they use the broad Vins de Pays des Côtes Catalanes appellation. Like many producers in the Languedoc-Roussillon, they are best known for their reds, but this wine was stunning, and bodes well for those growing everything from Chenin Blanc to Vermentino and Picpoul in the upper altitudes of the region.
2. Domaine d’Aupilhac ‘Les Servières’ Vin de Pays de l’Hérault 2011
There has been winemaking at this site in the Languedoc, outside Montpeyroux, since at least Roman times, and by the Fadat family for three generations. Sylvain, the current winemaker, founded the independent winery in 1989, and like Gauby, stopped selling off their production. Although much of the production is done under the A.O.C. Languedoc and A.O.C. Languedoc Montpeyroux appellations, which are more typical blends in both white and red, but ‘Les Servières’ defies the tradition of blending, and is labeled as a Vin de Pays. It is made from a single parcel of the oft-overlooked Cinsault variety, planted in 1900. He uses a relatively light touch, and only leaves the wine in barrel for nine months before bottling. The natural acidity of the variety impressed us, but like other wines from the region was suffering from reduction (best thought of as the opposite of oxidation). After an hour in a decanter, though, that reduction blows off, and a far more elegant wine is underneath than most of what is found in the Languedoc-Roussillon.
3. Domaine Canet Valette ‘Antonyme’ Saint-Chinian 2012
Considered to be the oldest winemaking area in the region, and it was favored by the Romans, Saint-Chinian’s slopes are like a class in viticultural geology, schist gives way to chalk and slate as one moves down the hill. Canet Valette is a one-man project, and although he made his first vintage in 1992, it wasn’t until 1998 when he built his winery, that Mark Valette began to become a darling of the new wave in the Languedoc-Roussillon. This cuvee, Antonyme, is a blend of equal parts Mourvedre and Cinsault, fermented in stainless steel in fifteen days, and aged in tanks for four months before bottling. I was impressed by how restrained the extraction was, and Pascaline pointed out that the aromatics were very clean. I found myself using terms more applicable to Beaujolais than anything in the South, and wondering if it wouldn’t be nice with a slight chill on a warm afternoon.
4. Domaine des 2 Anes ‘L’Enclos’ Corbières 2011
Using two donkeys (ânes) as their avatars, Magali and Dominique Terrier are the winemakers behind this up-and-coming brand. They’re not Languedoc natives, but after considering sites across France, they settled on Corbières — not just because of the availability of old vines, but also because of the region’s natural predisposition to organic agriculture. The intense winds coming up off the Mediterranean keep the grapes quite dry, reducing the need to treat to avoid mildew. Their property is 60 hectares, only 20 of which are under vine, leaving the rest to scrub or what is known as “garrique,” which include herbs like lavender, thyme, as well as juniper and stunted oak trees. It’s true that these flavors permeate the wines of the region, but they also provide an ecosystem to balance the monoculture of a vineyard. Although this wine is mostly Grenache, Pascaline expresses excitement about the potential of the variety that makes up most of their other cuvees, Carignan.
“I support Carignan in the west, and Syrah in the east,” she says, the latter having a more Rhone-like climate, and exceptions made for high-altitude appellations like Limoux, which is known for sparkling wine. It is the potential of these varieties, and the willingness of producers like the Terriers to work with the minuscule yields of their old vines, that might define the region in the future.
5. Zélige-Caravent ‘Velvet’ Pic Saint-Loup 2010
Another husband and wife team, Luc and Marie Michel, are the minds behind this winery, which had once belonged to Luc’s grandfather. He quit his government job to take it over, without any particular education in viticulture and only Marie, a painter whose work graces the labels, at his side. After a few years selling off the grapes to the local co-op, they took the leap into winemaking, and 15 years later are making stunning wines. The Velvet is their Syrah-driven (95%) cuvee, and comes from a site that Pascaline describes as, “one of the greatest,” in the region. The wines are expensive compared to their neighbors in Pic Saint-Loup, which has a wide, but varied, reputation in France, but especially with some bottle ages, these wines over-deliver. There are layers of dark berry fruit, black olive, and that ever-present garrique in the nose, but despite its inarguable density, it carries an elegance more associated with Crozes-Hermitage than Pic Saint-Loup.