Finding good value wines is not easy—or rather, producing them is not easy. Cheap plonk, the result of intensive farming typically done with little respect for the land or the nuances of taste, can be found by the ocean-full, but coming across that elusive, well-priced bottle that brings us back for a second and third sip is another story altogether. Beyond production costs for the juice itself, one must factor in to the final price glass bottles, corks, capsules, labels, import tariffs, and, of course, refrigerated trans-Atlantic shipping. Given all the players involved, each one logically demanding a piece of the pie, it is a miracle our shop is home to any bottles under $15. We have occasionally sought out custom bottlings of delicious, easy-drinking wines from co-ops, where we can taste a wide array of base wines from which to choose and blend to our desired specifications. We always aim to foster long-term relationships with the winemakers in order to ensure access to the best fruit, while preserving a goût de terroir through the low-intervention methodology we value in all our domaine-bottled wines. Our Languedoc rouge is made possible thanks to longtime partner Jean-Claude Zabalia, who since selling his own domaine has become vice president of the emergent Languedoc-Cabrières AOC and works closely with Cabrières’s small co-op. Each year, Jean-Claude speaks with the local growers and visits their vineyards with this very cuvée in mind. Always present through harvest and vinification, he then selects the best lots for us to work with based on what he thinks our clients will appreciate—after collaborating for more than twenty-five years, Jean-Claude has a pretty good idea of what we like. Crucially, he negotiates a great price with the co-op, so the bottle arrives on your table at a bargain cost. The 2017 blend we selected is full of the dark, brambly wild fruit, laced with spice and hints of dried herbs, that is typical of Languedoc reds. It boasts a lively mineral freshness thanks to the stunning schist terroir of Cabrières, surrounded by scrubby thyme and juniper on high-elevation hillsides. With all that goes into producing each bottle, this is indisputably among the finest values in our portfolio. A complete wine with juicy fruit, gulpability, and a sense of place, all for just twelve buckeroos: I dare you to find a better deal!
The Kermit Lynch blend from the Languedoc is born from history with vigneron Jean-Claude Zabalia, which dates back to the early ‘90s when he was the winemaker at St. Martin de la Garrigue. In 2012 he departed the domaine to found Château des Deux Rocs, which focuses on the high-elevation appellation of Cabrières. Kermit’s collaboration with Jean-Claude brings us what most certainly is one of the great value reds produced in France today. The fruit is sourced from Jean-Claude’s holdings in two of the Languedoc’s most up-and-coming terroirs—Cabrières and Terrasses du Larzac. These appellations are tucked away in the mountains at over 1000 feet above sea level, giving the wines an uncharacteristic freshness for the region.
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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