I am often asked at wine tastings about value for money wines. Wines from the south of France are really impressing me lately, particularly reds from Languedoc Roussillon, tucked into France’s south west Mediterranean coast. I took a wine tour of the area last April, and was surprised that you can drive for several hours and never lose sight of vineyards; such is the scale of planting. Although almost a quarter of French wines come from this area, it doesn’t really register with many wine drinkers, since half the production is Vin de Pays or IGP– simple country wines often made by large co-operatives, similar in structure to dairy co-ops here in Ireland.
With the decline in wine consumption in France, Vin de Pays producers have had to improve their quality. Red wines, which account for 4 out of 5 bottles, are frequently New World in style, with lots of ripe fruit.
The area is rich in natural assets, land is relatively cheap, and supply exceeds demand, making Languedoc wines excellent value. Glorious sunshine brings out the best fruit character in the grapes. This heat is tempered by mountain winds, varying cool, moist, or warm, depending on their origin. Thanks to these breezes, this is one of the most magnificent naturally sustainable vineyard areas of the world, as there is little need for chemical spraying. You will find wild herbs in the ‘garrigue’ hinterland, contributing to herbal flavours in the wine, which add unique character.
Now and again, pockets of limestone, elevated mountainous sites, favourable aspect and more astute choice of grapes deliver premium wines, and these are recognised with Appellation Contrôlée labels, slightly more expensive in price, but still terrific value.
Wines worth trying are:
Domaine Caude Val Sauvignon Blanc IGP 2010. A million miles away from New Zealand pungency and mouth-watering acidity. Dry but not too acidic, with flinty, lemony characters and a slightly smoky twist at the end. Amazing quality at this price; the Merlot also over-delivers. Jean Claude Mas is the owner here, and operates Domaines Paul Mas to exacting standards. €7.99, Molloys.
Ch. La Grave Minervois AC 2009 This family-run winery gets a lot of well-deserved press in the international press. I visited while Jean Francois was bottling, and he was extremely friendly but determined not to take his eye off the bottling line, for fear of contamination. This wine has classic aromas of berry, herbs & earth. Medium bodied, with firm tannins, lead pencil/earthiness, followed by brambly fruit, with mouthfilling voluptuousness and an expansive finish. €11.70 in independent wine shops, Next Door.
Château Pech-Latt Corbieres AC 2010 Medium-bodied with black cherry, spice, warm alcohol. €14.99, in independents such as Next Door, Nolan’s, Sweeney’s, Ardkeen, 1601, McHugh’s, Molloys, Lilac Wines.
Mas de Daumas Gassac – this property in the north of the region has unique terroir and was the estate which put the region on the map. Many foreign investors have bought into the area as a result. Look out for Albaran (Cab/Syrah) and Elise (Syrah/Merlot), a snip at €8.99. It’s worth tasting the top wine too, Mas de Daumas Gassac, which was nicknamed the Lafite of the Languedoc, even if only to say you’ve had it. It’s an incredibly heavy, structured wine, so look out for older vintages. Molloys have the 2004 at €40.