Say Oc to Languedoc

Languedoc Wine Conference Dinner November 23rd, 2009, C Restaurant Vancouver

Decidedly French and charmingly candid, Regional Representative Christine Molines (that would be, Christine Windmills) can be very passionate when the subject is the wines of Languedoc. Last month, at a wonderfully well put together tasting at C Restaurant on False Creek, she walked a delighted audience through the regions of the Southern France wine powerhouse (it has more vineyard area than Australia) and through a flight of eight products that did not disappoint.

The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks Languedoc is “Where the hell is that? What wines are made there?” The appellation does not have the resonance and prestige of Bordeaux, Burgundy, not even of the lesser known Loire or Alsace. Let’s start with the name. Languedoc -originally Langue d’Oc- translates as ‘language of Oc,’ this latter word meaning “yes”. The region stretches like an arc hugging the Mediterranean from the Pyrenees near the border with Spain, to the city of Nimes in the Gard, the latter an appellation that officially corresponds to the wine departements of the Southern Rhone. The Languedoc wine country is analogous to California because of its vast vineyard acreage, its sun baked hills and maritime influence. That is where the similarities stop.

Unlike its American cousin, the Languedoc’s landscape is dotted with castles, cathedrals and rocky outcrops on which the ruins of palaces and temples speak of a rich past, a hinge of cultures that from the time of the Greeks have recognized it as premier wine country. The appellation is fragmented in a number of sub-appellations, of which Coteaux du Languedoc, Corbieres and Minervois are the best known.  Still reds are the bulk of the production but Lunel and Frontignan’s dessert wines (Vin Doux Naturels) as well as exciting sparkling wines from Limoux are part of the region’s vinous arsenal.

The predominant black grapes are Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault. Often maligned and misunderstood, the last two can produce beautiful wines when grown to produce small crops on marginal, sloped, schist-predominant soils. In some areas, namely Cabardes and Malepere, Atlantic varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can be found blended with the Mediterranean ones. Piquepoul, Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Bourboulenc predominate in white blends, which tend to be robust and aromatic. Delicious, floral, appley sparkling wines are made with those grapes and also with Mauzac, a variety rarely found outside the region.

With over a dozen sub-appellations and areas undergoing classification, diversity in the taste and character of the wines is to be expected. However, the terroir exercises its influence throughout the region, principally through the aromas of la garrigue. This is a quintessential Languedoc landscape, defined by scrubland perfumed by strong ocean, mineral and herbal scents. Lavender, thyme, rosemary, Aleppo pine and others mingle with the soils and the salty marine breeze, propping up the grapes’ aromas and flavors. This bouquet of wild vegetation and minerals is the olfactory hallmark of the appellation’s wines. In a subsequent post I will review the wines tasted at that memorable show (special thanks to Mireille Sauve of The Wine Umbrella who helped organize the event).

However, I feel I also owe a note to the region as a tourist destination. Enchanting cities, like Montpellier and fairy-tale like rural landscapes, as in Gassac, make this region a must see for the wine traveler. If the beauty, history and wine were not enough, there is the delicious food. Cassoulet, choucroute, bouillabaisse, goat cheese, the list goes on. Today’s Languedoc is a marriage between the land and the Mediterranean, enjoying a cultural tradition to which all, Greek and Phoenician, Roman and Visigoth, Arab and Franc have contributed and shaped. Say Oc to the wines of Languedoc.

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2 Responses to “Say Oc to Languedoc”

  1. Ryan O'Connell Says:

    Love this synopsis. I wish you had mentioned Carcassonne but I won’t get too jealous. 🙂

    I’m glad to see such well-spoken interest in my favorite wine region.

    • winecouver Says:

      Est ce que tu habites a Carcassone? We have a selection of 3000 labels in our store, yet not one from the Carcassone area. I realize I saw your online video once, talking about pruning techniques but didnt make the connection until I saw your blog. Which is great, by the way. Have you tried the Courbissac wines from Minervois and Minervois La Livinniere? they are fantastic. cheers

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