Just as there is a world of difference between a moderate suntan and a sunburn, there is a gulf of pleasure between wines that show their warmth and solar exposure in subtle ways and those that scream “I’ve been out in the sun too long!” Mas Champart’s 2017 Causse du Bousquet, from the rugged, windswept appellation of Saint-Chinian, west of Montpellier, has a handsome tan. The summers here are hot, and 2017’s was no exception, but the combination of Matthieu Champart’s expert work in the vines and his wife Isabelle’s deft touch in the cellar creates reds that are earthy and spicy on one hand, and still fresh and vibrant on the other. They transport you to a gently sunny afternoon on a terrace in the south of France. Made mostly of Syrah, the Causse du Bousquet makes me imagine warmed black olives gently pressed with a mortar and pestle. With your southern French lunch table topped with a bowl of blackberries and just-poured, fragrant espresso, you have a sense of the magic aromas and flavors of this quintessentially southern rouge.
Isabelle and Mathieu Champart were relatively new to winegrowing when they took over Domaine Bramefan in Saint-Chinian in 1976. For nearly 12 years they sold their grapes to the local cooperative. They waited until 1988 to bottle under their own label, but won almost instant acclaim. Mathieu tends to the vines, and Isabelle makes the wines. While the domaine started from just a humble, stone farmhouse, they’ve added a winery and expanded holdings from 8 to 25 hectares. Though the wines are easy to appreciate now for their inky complexity, they age extremely well. Kermit wants to add that Isabelle is also one of his favorite cooks. He always tries to land 11 a.m. appointments on the off chance they’ll invite him to stay for lunch.
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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