Monday, June 05, 2006

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)


Trish said...

Languedoc really can be good-buy central. Argh, now I have a craving for something with roussanne...

mikithecig said...

Hehehehe.. well, folks, it is time now to seek out my latest discovery.. read on....

Picpoul- the little known wine with a great future

This rare little gem of a white wine can be found in the Languedoc, France. Its full name is Picpoul de Pinet. Situated on a limestone plateau, the vineyards of Picpoul overlook the oyster and mussel-farming centre of the Thau lagoon. The white wine is made from a single Piquepoul grape variety and is a light acidic wine, with floral and citrus fruit aromas, which render it an ideal accompaniment to seafood. The AOC Coteaux du Languedoc: Picpoul de Pinet classification applies only to white wines.

Picpoul is a rare, ancient French grape that thrives in the coastal sands near Sète in the Languedoc, by the Mediterranean Sea. Its blend of refreshing acidity and aromatic fruit flavors of citrus and peach, make it a fantastic, full-bodied wine to enjoy with food. It is particularly well suited to seafood because it has more floral flavors than a mineral wine, like a Sancerre. Unlike Voignier, another rare French white grape, Picpoul has not yet been exported much and is consumed almost exclusively by the locals and tourists who vacation in the area.

This clear, light-gold wine breathes appetizing aromas of peaches, juicy and fresh, with a back note of lemon-lime. Crisp and tart, white-fruit flavors and lemon-squirt acidity are fresh and cleansing in a very long finish. Not overly complex but bright and appealing, it's a first-rate seafood wine. It has been called the Muscadet of the south of France. It is the wine that is usually served with oysters that can be found along the coasts of the Languedoc.

Serve very cool between 6 and 8°C to accompany all seafood, shellfish and fish. It can also be served as an aperitif, either alone or with a touch of crème de cassis (blackcurrant) or crème de mûre (blackberry).

Picpoul Blanc (also spelled Piquepoul Blanc) is one of the lesser-known Rhône varietals. It is one of the thirteen permitted varietals in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where it is used primarily as a blending component to take advantage of its acidity. Like the better known Grenache and Pinot, Picpoul has red, white and pink variants, though Picpoul Noir and Picpoul Gris are very rare. Literally translating to “lip stinger”, Picpoul Blanc produces wines known in France for their bright acidity, minerality, and clean lemony flavor.

Most scholars believe Picpoul is native to the Languedoc region of Southern France, where it is still found today. Records from the early 17th century indicate that it was blended with Clairette (another white Rhône varietal) to form the popular sweet Picardan wine (not to be confused with the Chateauneuf du Pape varietal of the same name), which was exported by Dutch wine traders from Languedoc throughout Northern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the phylloxera invasion at the end of the 19th century, Picpoul was not widely replanted. Today it is best known from Picpoul de Pine, the crisp light green wine of the Pinet Region in the Côteaux de Languedoc.
So, when you are next in the Languedoc, or looking for wines in your Wine merchant’s store, take a serious look at wines from Picpoul. You will not be disappointed!
Further info on