Cabernet Sauvignon is a bit of an intruder on the limestone slopes around Pic Saint-Loup: Syrah and Mourvèdre are at home here, producing deep, elegant, spicy reds with a strong Mediterranean accent. And yet, Cabernet has proven it is just as capable in providing its own interpretation of this dramatic landscape of rocky bluffs and garrigue-infested hills. This humble vin de pays from Cyriaque Rozier of Château Fontanès is teeming with juicy wild fruit, while an herbaceous element hints at both the varietal side of the grape as well as the aromatic herbs typical of the region. Its dusty tannin is yet another lens for that earthy Languedoc terroir to shine through. Cyriaque ages this red in stainless steel and bottles it young to capture all its youthful vigor. It is not trying to be Bordeaux—on the contrary, it genuinely reflects the down-home, country soulfulness we love about the Languedoc. And on top of that, the winemaking—and the price—encourages unabashed gulping; slight chill optional.
Cyriaque Rozier, vigneron at Château La Roque, makes his own wine under the label Château Fontanès in Pic St-Loup. Though within the boundaries of the appellation Pic St-Loup, the lion’s share of his production is Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape varietal outside the constraints set for the A.O.C. in the Languedoc. This means he must take Vin de Pays d’Oc designation, the trade-off being that he gets to make wines his way, and we, in turn, get an incredible price. Being rebellious seems to come naturally to a man of such innate talent, and the elegance of his wines are proof enough in a region where bigger is often considered better. Raw terroir and spicy garrigue abound in these wines, with rich, juicy fruit and silky tannins.
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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