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. The 2014 vintage epitomizes his quest for freshness: rarely do Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre achieve such class and finesse. Today, it recalls black pepper, violets, and dried herbs, but if previous vintages are any indicator, there is no hurry to open this refined southern red.
Three generations of Fadats have farmed the lieu-dit known as Aupilhac, in the village of Montpeyroux, across the river Hérault from Daumas Gassac and Grange des Pères. While the Fadats have farmed this land since the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1989 that the current member of the family, Sylvain, finally registered the domaine as a vigneron indépendant. Aupilhac sits at a high altitude, nestled below the ruins of the village’s château, at almost 1200 feet above sea level on terraced land. The soils are rich in prehistoric oyster fossils, which lend incredible length and minerality to the wines. In Sylvain’s words, “We believe that work in the vineyards has far more influence on a wine's quality than what we do in the cellar.”
Ask wine drinkers around the world, and the word “Languedoc” is sure to elicit mixed reactions. On the one hand, the region is still strongly tied to its past as a producer of cheap, insipid bulk wine in the eyes of many consumers. On the other hand, it is the source of countless great values providing affordable everyday pleasure, with an increasing number of higher-end wines capable of rivaling the best from other parts of France.
While there’s no denying the Languedoc’s checkered history, the last two decades have seen a noticeable shift to fine wine, with an emphasis on terroir. Ambitious growers have sought out vineyard sites with poor, well draining soils in hilly zones, curbed back on irrigation and the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and looked to balance traditional production methods with technological advancements to craft wines with elegance, balance, and a clear sense of place. Today, the overall quality and variety of wines being made in the Languedoc is as high as ever.
Shaped like a crescent hugging the Mediterranean coast, the region boasts an enormous variety of soil types and microclimates depending on elevation, exposition, and relative distance from the coastline and the cooler foothills farther inland. While the warm Mediterranean climate is conducive to the production of reds, there are world-class whites and rosés to be found as well, along with stunning dessert wines revered by connoisseurs for centuries.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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