One of the single greatest value reds we import is a pure Cabernet Sauvignon, but not one from the grape’s hallowed homeland of Bordeaux. No, the grape could never make for such a bargain bottling in the land of fancy châteaux, nor express the juiciness, charming rusticity, and completely unfussy nature that it does in the wild countryside of southern France. Cabernet is a transplant to the sunny Languedoc—one that has proven to work extremely well in the garrigue-saturated limestone rubble that makes up the Pic Saint Loup appellation. This biodynamic rendition is one of the rare expressions of the grape to provide a very elemental form of pleasure, not unlike the feeling of lifting a fistful of sumptuous-looking blackcurrants straight to your face.
Cyriaque Rozier, vigneron at Château La Roque, makes his own wine under the label Château Fontanès in Pic St-Loup. Though within the boundaries of the appellation Pic St-Loup, the lion’s share of his production is Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape varietal outside the constraints set for the A.O.C. in the Languedoc. This means he must take Vin de Pays d’Oc designation, the trade-off being that he gets to make wines his way, and we, in turn, get an incredible price. Being rebellious seems to come naturally to a man of such innate talent, and the elegance of his wines are proof enough in a region where bigger is often considered better. Raw terroir and spicy garrigue abound in these wines, with rich, juicy fruit and silky tannins.
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.
Let the brett nerds retire into protective bubbles, and whenever they thirst for wine it can be passed in to them through a sterile filter. Those of us on the outside can continue to enjoy complex, natural, living wines.
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