Languedoc Reds: Still Searching for an Identity

Not so long ago, the Languedoc region was often called “the California of France.” Not so much because it’s hot, dry and vast, though all are true, but because as far as wine was concerned, anything goes.

In other French regions, it seemed, the rules were clear. Red Burgundy is made with pinot noir, for example, and producers rarely had reason to deviate from them.

But Languedoc was different. Its history was of producing vast amounts of inexpensive wine, with quantity far outweighing quality. But as drinking habits evolved, people in France and everywhere else began to consume less wine, but of better quality. Languedoc has long struggled to adapt and to gain a clear new identity.

Producers there had little reason to adhere to appellation rules — few people were buying wines because they were called Corbières or St.-Chinian, two of many Languedoc appellations.

As in California, they experimented, supplementing or replacing traditional southern French red grapes like carignan, cinsault and grenache with more internationally popular grapes like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Often, growers were abetted by the European Union, which offered incentives to replace vines it believed were of low quality, like carignan.

I’ve had some wonderful cabernet-based wines from Languedoc that I believe did justice to their terroirs. But, as in many areas around the world, Languedoc, too, is rediscovering the vines that flourished there for so long. Made with an eye toward quality rather than quantity, the wines can be distinctive and compelling.

This month we’ll drink three reds from the Languedoc region. The bottles I suggest are:

Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie Corbières Rouge 2019 (Rosenthal Wine Merchant), New York $17

Domaine de l’Hortus Pic Saint Loup Bergerie Classique Rouge 2019 (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.) $20

Domaine d’Aupilhac Languedoc Lou Maset 2018 (Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif.) $23

If you can only find more recent vintages of these wines, that’s fine. If you cannot find these bottles, other producers to look for include Domaine des 2 Ânes, Clos Fantine, Domaine les Serrals, Domaine des Amiel, Domaine Rimbert, Clos Marie, Domaine Leon Barral, Château Maris, Mas Jullien and Maxime Magnon.

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I don’t think you need to be picky about what to serve with them. Meaty stews and soups, roasts, sausages, bean dishes, chicken dishes — they should all go pretty well. I would expect these wines to be more rustic than subtle, and I mean that in a good way.

One more point: Languedoc used to habitually be referred to as Languedoc-Roussillon. It was perhaps a natural linkage of two neighboring regions in the south of France. But they are quite different, and increasingly they are now considered independently from one another.

Sometime soon, perhaps, if I can find enough bottles, we’ll examine Roussillon whites for an entirely different experience.

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