The Terrasses du Larzac appellation is not especially well known, having only gained official recognition in 2005. And yet these vineyards in the northern Languedoc, perched up in the foothills of the Cévennes mountain range, offer fascinating conditions for winemaking, which producers such as Jean-Baptiste Granier of Les Vignes Oubliées are keen to exploit. At significant elevation, his parcels benefit from cool mountain winds and more rainfall than in the extremely hot and arid low-lying zones to the south; these conditions preserve a certain ethereal qual- ity in this concentrated blend of old-vine Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan. Today, via organic farming and traditional methods in the cellar like native yeast fermentations and aging in neutral wood, he crafts small quantities of this red that marries southern power with northern elegance. A fine example of what can be achieved in the Terrasses du Larzac, this cuvée offers balanced, earthy pleasure today and will develop further in bottle for at least a decade.
Les Vignes Oubliées is hard to categorize: though the quality and quantity produced suggest an exacting family estate, it is in fact a sort of boutique cooperative—a self-proclaimed “collective of small farmers.” Clustered around the tiny village of Saint Privat, the terraced vineyards sit at 350 meters altitude, placing them among the region’s highest. Winemaker Jean-Baptiste Granier works closely with four vignerons who entrust their fruit to him, ensuring that both sides maintain their stringent standards. The high altitude of the Larzac plateau combines with schist and sandstone soil to give unusually fresh, delicate wines with silky tannins that also have garrigue aromas and great generosity characteristic of the Languedoc.
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.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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