Pierre Ravaille and his brothers Jean-Marc and Xavier (represented by the cool three-fish logo on the label) are the men behind this storied Languedoc domaine on the slopes of the Pic Saint Loup. Their family has owned this property for more than a thousand years. Tour de Pierres is a bottle that captures all of the soil types represented in their landholdings—a “tour of their stones,” if you will. Thanks to biodynamic viticulture combined with high-altitude vineyards (cool evening temperatures and winds even in summer), the Ravaille brothers’ wine is refreshing and vibrant despite its southerly roots. This bottling represents one of the best values, pound for pound, in our entire book.
Ermitage du Pic St-Loup dates back to the Middle Ages, as the former home of the bishops of Maguelone. The limestone peak or “pic” perched above the vineyards was named for the legendary Saint Thieri Loup. In 1992, the Ravaille brothers joined forces to plant a vineyard here in what has traditionally been land dominated by sheep farming and cheese production. The Ravaille family has been in the Languedoc for over a thousand years, long enough to have known Saint Loup personally. These brothers have been on a noble quest of their own to create serious wine that expresses the complexity of their terroir. The three fish on the label’s emblem therefore not only evoke the story of Saint Loup, but also their fraternal collaboration.
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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