The Languedoc is certainly not known for its white wines, but planting the right grapes in the right site can yield great results. Retaining freshness is the crucial determinant here, as the hot meridional climate favors low acidity, and grapes like Marsanne and Grenache Blanc are lacking in natural acidity to begin with. At 350 meters above sea level, Les Cocalières experiences diurnal temperature shifts crucial to preserving this acid, while the northwestern sun exposure prevents excessive ripeness and correspondingly flabby wines. The vineyard also boasts a curious and unusual soil: the land was once a lake that formed after the eruption of an ancient volcano, resulting in a mixture of limestone and basalt—a rare geological phenomenon. Sylvain Fadat, founder of Domaine d’Aupilhac, ferments the juice wild and ages the wine for more than a year in neutral casks, where it completes its malolactic fermentation before an unfiltered bottling. The Cocalières blanc perfectly reflects its terroir: taut, mineral—almost salty—and suggestive of the wild thyme and fennel that grow abundantly around the vines. It also has tremendous aging potential; a 2002 opened recently showed astonishing complexity, reminiscent of honey, almonds, wildflowers, and liquid rocks.
Three generations of Fadats have farmed the lieu-dit known as Aupilhac, in the village of Montpeyroux, across the river Hérault from Daumas Gassac and Grange des Pères. While the Fadats have farmed this land since the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1989 that the current member of the family, Sylvain, finally registered the domaine as a vigneron indépendant. Aupilhac sits at a high altitude, nestled below the ruins of the village’s château, at almost 1200 feet above sea level on terraced land. The soils are rich in prehistoric oyster fossils, which lend incredible length and minerality to the wines. In Sylvain’s words, “We believe that work in the vineyards has far more influence on a wine's quality than what we do in the cellar.”
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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