A Monster in the Minervois
France's Languedoc-Roussillon is a vast and fertile region home to over 400,000 acres of vines. To put this into perspective, this is more acreage under vine than in all of Australia. As the majority of the annual production of 18 million hectolitres of wine is destined to be simple ‘vin de table,’ one could point an accusatory finger at this region for its continued role in adding to what is becoming a worldwide crisis of oversupply of low-quality grapes and wine. As the price of grapes continues to fall, those growers who don’t produce either high-quality grapes or their own wines are finding it difficult to make ends meet.
In what I see as a more productive reaction to the crisis than brandishing pitchforks and blockading highways, efforts are being undertaken on a number of fronts to deal with the oversupply. The cheap stuff is undergoing a cosmetic makeover with hipper packaging and marketing to counter the increasing dominance of Australia and California in the low-end price point. Vines are also being literally ripped out of the ground, making way for more viable cash crops.
Winemakers in the region have also made a conscious decision to produce better-quality wines. Didier Baral in Faugères, Ollivier Jullien in the Languedoc, Marjorie Gallet in the Roussillon are but a few of hundreds of excellent winemakers making reasonably-priced, high-quality and distinctive wines. While many of these winemakers are taking advantage of the region's penchant for experimentation by planting international varietals and using modern vinification techniques, the winemakers that I appreciate most are those who work with indigeneous red varietals like Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvedre, and white varietals like Roussane, Macabeo and Grenache Blanc and Gris. Here is one such wine.
Minervois La Liviniere 2001, Clos de L’Escandil, Giles Chabbert ($27..importation Privée)
This winemaker and his wine encapsulate perfectly what is happening in today’s Languedoc. Taking over from his father who sold his grapes to the local co-op, Mr. Chabbert now makes his own wine with one foot firmly planted in tradition and the other ‘toeing’ the sand of modern viticulture. A blend of Syrah, Vieilles Vignes Grenache and Carignan, the Clos was rich, ripe and juicy like an over-ripened dark plum. At 14.5% alchohol, hints of black pepper, cloves, black licorice and cooked fig harkened memories of zinfandel. Well-structured with decent tannins, it was a dream with our bbq baby back ribs.
Interesting Languedoc red wines available at the SAQ
Ch. Lancyre Pic St-Loup Grande Cuvée coteaux-du-languedoc 2001 ($24)
Château Puech-Haut Saint- Drézéry coteaux-du-languedoc 2001 ($36)
Domaine Clavel Les Garrigues coteaux-du-languedoc 2004 ($18)
Domaine Borie de Maurel Esprit d'Automne minervois 2005 ($16)
Château Coupes Roses Granaxa minervois 2003 ($22)
Château de Combebelle Comte Cathare st-chinian 2001 ($21)
Donnadieu Cuvée Mathieu et Marie st-chinian 2004 ($16)