Ive said it before, and it bears repeating: Pic Saint Loup is perhaps the most underrated and undervalued appellation in all of France. Just as the Pic itself dramatically rises above the Languedocien landscape, its sheer façades culminating in a majestic limestone summit, the wines here benefit from an exceptional terroir that allows them to tower over the region’s sea of vin ordinaire. The three Ravaille brothers who make up Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup—Pierre, Jean-Marc, and Xavier—have gone to great lengths to reap the full potential from these stone-ridden slopes. Their conversion to biodynamics proved crucial, allowing for living soils better able to resist heat and drought, ultimately resulting in purer wines with lower alcohol and greater aromatic finesse. Farming some of the best vineyards in the appellation—cool, high-elevation sites littered with calcareous rubble—certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Their Cuvée Sainte Agnès demonstrates the potential for wines of uncommon elegance in the Languedoc’s most temperate appellation. Syrah planted here shows a kinship with the northern Rhône, echoing aromas of black olive and violets found in bottles from Clape and Allemand the Ravailles fondly hold in their impressive personal cellar. Grenache and Mourvèdre fill out the blend to provide an appropriate Mediterranean soulfulness, but this bottling is more about restraint and perfume than bombastic fruit. Savory and floral, with bright accents of orange zest, it soars over the palate with grace and finishes with a freshness reminiscent of cool stone. If a stunning 1999 opened at the domaine recently is any indication, the best wines from this appellation can go the distance and stand toe to toe with southern France’s finest reds. The Ravaille brothers’ Sainte Agnès is proof that it is time to start paying attention to Pic Saint Loup.
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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