The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2014

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40  /  the tasting panel  /  december 2014 MODERN FRANCE F orget backstory, cépages and heritage—Languedoc's bullet- point attributes alone should compel even unadventurous enophiles to pull a cork. How many regions can boast such an array of claims: 650,000 vineyard acres, 30,000 growers, 36 AOPs, Mediterranean coastal wines, Montagne Noir hillside wines, unoaked lemony whites, high-quality bistro reds, Provence- rivaling rosés, sparkling alternatives to Champagne, four AOPs of fortified Muscat and average prices in the $15–25 range? Oh, and they're deli- cious. The region historically produced bulk wine, yet over the past 30 years, growers have recognized they've got something special—as well as France's least-restrictive AOP. "I've always bought Languedoc, but most of the U.S. market hasn't caught on yet," says Michael Madrigale, 2012 Sommelier of the Year winner and Head Sommelier of Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud. "A wine of high quality from Languedoc would cost much more if it were from elsewhere. I have at least ten on the list." Bordeaux and Burgundy evolve slowly. They are the majestic stalactites and stalag- mites in ancient fossil caves. Languedoc, on the other hand, is an active formation still being shaped. It's a relatively new frontier for wine in France, with many new faces and the last affordable vineyard land. Some call it the New World of the Old World, yet a place this large and diverse defies generalizations. We know the primary grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Muscat. We know that the Mediterranean climate affords tremendous vintage consistency. We know that the region divides into: the Mountains (structured, Rhône-like, ageable wines from Pic Saint-Loup, Terrasses du Larzac, Faugères), the Coast (shellfish wines and softer, tropical whites from Picpoul de Pinet, La Clape, Grès de Montpellier), the South (indigenous and Mediterranean varieties from Corbières, Corbières-Boutenac, Fitou), the Center (home to Minervois and three of the four recognized Cru appellations: Minervois la Livinière, Saint-Chinian Berlou and Saint-Chinian Roquebrun) and the West (international varieties and sparkling wines dominate in Limoux, Malepère, Cabardès). But how did it happen and why do we care? Hills and Valleys Not so long ago, Languedoc wines simply provided calories, dietary supplement and headspace for hardworking Languedociens. In hilly vineyards, soil was poor and labor was difficult, so locals abandoned sites in favor of fecund low plains and high yields. Lagging far behind the classic regions, wine production here didn't flourish until the mid-1900s when it finally overtook cereal grains. By then, Languedoc was destined to produce vins ordinaires for mass consumption within France, because that's what the market called for—the pedigree of France's grand crus having long been established elsewhere. Even in its earliest days, Languedoc's wine industry seemed to be driven by outside forces rather than by the dictates of a hallowed ground. After phylloxera, large vineyards prevailed, but there were still many small landhold- ers; the economies of scale drew them together into Languedoc's first cooperatives. The system exploded and soon there was at least one co-op per village, promising growers decent income and social advancement. 500 500 2000 2000 2000 4000 4000 4000 4000 2000 2000 4000 4000 4000 6000 8000 6000 4000 2000 2000 2000 500 500 500 500 500 500 500 500 Avignon Montelimar Nîmes Alès Montpellier Agde Béziers Lézignan- Corbières Narbonne Perpignan Carcassonne Albi Rodez Cahors Millau Toulouse Carpentras Arles Martigues Marseille Valence S P A I N G o l f e d u L i o n Rhône Hérault Tarn Agout Agout Ariège Têt Aude C a m a r g u e C a v e n n e s A9 A75 A75 A75 A7 A7 A54 A55 A9 A61 D117 N116 N115 A61 A66 D118 A68 A9 N568 D94 D104 D86 D981 D999 D999 D911 D612 N106 PROVENCE-ALPES- CÔTE D'AZUR L A N G U E D O C - R O U S S I L L O N M I D I - P Y R É N É E S R H Ô N E - A L P E S CABARDÈS CORBIÈRES MINERVOIS FITOU La Clape CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON CÔTES DU ROUSSILLON VILLAGES Pic St Loup COTEAUX DU LANGUEDOC COSTIÈRES DE NÎMES MALEPÈRE LIMOUX Paris Contours (heights in feet) 0 0 40 kilometers 40 miles 2000 LANGUEDOC From Ordinaire to Historically associated with neighboring Roussillon, Languedoc is now stressing its own identity. Extraordi

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