If you can’t make it to the south of France this year, here’s a way to bring the Mediterranean sun to you. A smell of this wine will conjure visions of deep blue sea and dark green garrigue, and you will have the impression that the warm autumnal afternoon sun is shining on your skin. The elements have given plenty of power to this dark chocolaty beauty but also delicate hints of violets and stone fruit. Its concentration will complement a roast well, served alongside potatoes with rosemary.
In 1981, Vincent Cantié and Christine Campadieu took over two small, family-owned domaines where they’d grown up, in Collioure and Banyuls. Together, they farm vineyards planted on steep, schist terraces overlooking the sea, exposed to the fierce and wily wind known as “La Tramontagne.” The vineyards are so steep that cultivation must be by hand, and extensive irrigation canals are the only prevention against soil erosion. At harvest, grapes are carried up and down the mountain in baskets. This method of farming, while extremely challenging, preserves the traditions of their ancestors. The heart, soul, and hard work that go into crafting these wines make their labor of love all the more delicious.
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.
Every three or four months I would send my clients a cheaply made list of my inventory, but it began to dawn on me that business did not pick up afterwards. It occurred to me that my clientele might not know what Château Grillet is, either. One month in 1974 I had an especially esoteric collection of wines arriving, so I decided to put a short explanation about each wine into my price list, to try and let my clients know what to expect when they uncorked a bottle. The day after I mailed that brochure, people showed up at the shop, and that is how these little propaganda pieces for fine wine were born.—Kermit Lynch
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