The Languedoc’s reputation as source of bargain reds for everyday enjoyment is well-merited, but what about its more serious, cellar-worthy wines? With an abundance of esteemed terroirs such as Pic Saint Loup, Montpeyroux, and Faugères, there is no shortage of fine wine capable of going the distance from this large, undervalued region. Such appellations’ relative lack of prestige, while unfair, is in fact an advantage for wine lovers: these wines are consequently much more affordable that wines of similar quality produced in illustrious regions like Bordeaux or the Rhône. The Languedoc’s sweet spot primarily lies in a crescent-shaped belt of land inland from the Mediterranean, where foothills provide the perfect climate in addition to a notable variety of soil types for viticulture to thrive. The warm, arid conditions of the midi are buffered by marine influence and the freshness found at altitude that create an excellent environment in which to craft balanced, ageable whites and reds. For example, a 2002 Cocalières blanc from Domaine d’Aupilhac tasted recently caused a real sensation: with hints of honey, wild fennel, and what could only be described as liquid stone, it proved deliciously refreshing and complex. A 1999 old-vine Mourvèdre from Château La Roque held its ground alongside a great Bandol red, expressing spicy garrigue and game with chewy tannins and plenty of vigor. Here we’ve assembled some of our best Languedoc wines for aging. Browse around and stock your cellar—years from now, you’ll be happy you did.
This blend of Roussanne, Rolle (Vermentino), Grenache Blanc, and Marsanne is a definite contender for “best white of the South.” The juice ferments wild and ages for more than a year in neutral casks, completing its malolactic fermentation before an unfiltered bottling. Why one of southern France’s finest whites? Poise, length, sense of place, and aging potential. A 2002 opened recently showed astonishing complexity, reminiscent of honey, almonds, wildflowers, and liquid rocks.
The Languedoc is certainly not known for its white wines, but planting the right grapes in the right site can yield great results. Retaining freshness is the crucial determinant here, as the hot meridional climate favors low acidity, and grapes like Marsanne and Grenache Blanc are lacking in natural acidity to begin with. At 350 meters above sea level, Cocalières experiences diurnal temperature shifts crucial to preserving this acid, while the northwest sun exposure prevents excessive ripeness and correspondingly flabby wines. The vineyard also boasts a curious and unusual geology: it was once a lake that formed after the eruption of an ancient volcano, resulting in a mixture of limestone and basalt—a rare geological phenomenon. The white wine from Cocalières perfectly reflects its terroir: taut, mineral—almost salty—and suggestive of the wild thyme and fennel that grow abundantly around the vines.
Around the imposing vertical escarpment known as the Pic Saint Loup, abundant limestone litters the vineyard floor, balmy garrigue fragrances waft through the dry Mediterranean air, and the nearby mountains bring cool breezes that temper the at times stifling meridional heat. La Roque’s old-vine Mourvèdre is consistently one of the finest values we import from any region. Rugged as the landscape from which it is born, this chewy red offers aromas of ripe black cherry and wild brush that beg for something hearty, grilled, and smothered with garlic and herbs.
A quick glance at the Cocalières vineyard is enough to inspire downright awe: this vast amphitheater stretches over a sloping eight hectares of rocky land, perched above the Languedoc plains that lead to the Mediterranean to the south. Convinced by the potential of this high-altitude terroir, vigneron Sylvain Fadat of Domaine d’Aupilhac cleared the land of shrubbery and stones after purchasing the plot almost twenty years ago, then planted vines with the goal of producing wines of elegance and restraint. The slightly cooler climate in Cocalières is perfect for accomplishing this, as it allows Sylvain to harvest ripe, balanced grapes at lower potential alcohol levels than is feasible in the sunbaked foothills below.
Very old vines, an unbelievably rocky terroir, and extreme precision in farming and winemaking make Mille Vignes the source of some delightfully finessed, highly drinkable reds from the Languedoc’s Fitou appellation. Winemaker Valérie Guérin prefers to let the vines and the vineyard site do the talking, so she eschews oak in the cellar and instead carries out all vinifications and aging in tiny fiberglass tanks. Her wines express a shocking purity of fruit: this Grenache is a tender cushion of soft wild cherries and brambly berries, accented by a hint of resinous garrigue herbs. It is intended for current consumption—no need to wait!
Didier Barral is focused above all else on typicity. He wants his wine to taste like it came from his vineyards in the schist-ridden hills of Lentheric, and he will try anything to accomplish this goal, as long as it doesn’t involve adding man-made chemicals, pesticides, or fertilizers to his soil. The Marcel Lapierre of the south, Didier produces wine that contains nothing but the fruit harvested ripe from his old vines planted in his stony yet fertile soil. Earthy, meaty, savory, juicy, and powerful, it is a glassful of joyful, soulful goodness. Barral’s is a signature that cannot be mistaken.
This great wine, made by the Vaillé family of Aniane in the Languedoc region of southern France, is not defined by where it is from or by the grape varieties blended to produce it, the age of the vines, or the yields. Its identity is determined neither by barrel regimen nor tricks of vinification and enology. Rather, it is the result of a very personal, dead-serious quest for perfection at every stage of the process, from the original planting of the vineyards to the choice of cork used to bottle the wine. The road map was and still is fairly simple—in theory, not in execution—and remains unchanged. Grange des Pères defies categorization and redefines greatness.
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