Thirty years ago it was the land of cheap table wine. Now Languedoc-Roussillon, the world’s largest wine region which produces one third of French wine, is undergoing a renaissance with more experimentation than anywhere else in France – and is the source of some of the best-value wines in the country. Here is my current top ten.
PICPOUL DE PINET 2013 DOMAINE DE HAUT-BRIDAN
Once known as “lip-stinger” due to its tart acid, the piquepoul grape is grown near the vast saltwater lagoon of Bassin de Thau. Now this nippy white has been transformed into a bracing citric delight and has caught our imagination, as every UK supermarket seems to stock one. This is a brand new wine to Waitrose. Very appealing as a summery aperitif, it acts like a squeeze of lemon with a plate of fruits de mer, or it’s delicious for just whiling away a Sunday afternoon with a book in the hammock. 12 per cent.
LE VERSANT VIOGNIER 2012 LES VIGNOBLES DE FONCALIEU
(£8.50, Fine Wine Direct UK; Inverarity Morton, Glasgow; www.winerack.co.uk)
A very popular wine at our recent tasting, where it was labelled as a bargain at under £10. Le Versant is from hillside vineyards in western Languedoc where higher-altitude plantings benefit from more Atlantic influence and higher acidity, which is crucial in the rich textured viognier grape. With peachy aromas, this is a fresh and zippy example. 13.5 per cent.
MAS DES MONTAGNE TERROIRS D’ALTITUDE BLANC 2011
(£9.99, Majestic Wine)
A clever blend of grenache blanc and macabeo, this “mountain wine” is named after its high vineyard sites in Roussillon, creating minerally thirst-quenching vivid whites. It’s made by the Lorgeril family, who own the better-known Chateau Pennautier in Languedoc, with renowned consultant Patrick Leon of Domaines Rothschild assisting. Their grenache noir, syrah and carignan-based red blend is also good quaffing stuff and even better value at £8.99. 13.5 per cent.
VIOGNIER 2012 DOMAINE STE FERREOL
(£10.99 each for 2 bts or £12.49, Majestic Wine; £12.50, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com)
For those who like their viognier with weight and complexity, this honeysuckle-scented, rich, weighty, barrel-fermented example from Chateau Ste Ferreol is seriously delicious. Jorge Maslakiewicz, the owner of this medieval priory near Nizas in the heart of the Herault where vines have been grown since 1146, has a passion for this grape. 13 per cent.
VIN DE PAYS DES CÔTES CATALANES, LA SOULA BLANC 2008
Gerard Gauby of Domaine Soula is a legend. He uses biodynamic methods to cultivate his old vines, creating unique polished wines which have been hailed by some critics as the best in France. Based close to the Pyrenees in rugged Roussillon, on schist/granite soils in an area which has been slow to change, Gauby uses nine white grapes in his blend, with an emphasis on sauvignon blanc, macabeo, vermentino and grenache blanc. 13.5 per cent.
ST CHINIAN LES TRUFFIERES 2010 CHATEAU MILHAU-LACUGUE
(£13.50, Yapp Bros, www.yapp.co.uk)
Top scorer at our tasting. I love this unoaked blend of syrah and grenache with its pungent, vivid, extracted bugle-blowing fruits – it just cries out for a plate of roast lamb. My own experience of St Chinian reds in the past has been disappointing; I often find them coarse, but this shining example is superb. I am not the only one to love this wine; it’s rated as “outstanding” by Decanter magazine in their Languedoc panel tasting. 14.5 per cent. STAR BUY
PINOT NOIR POMAREDES 2010 DOMAINE DE CLOVALLON
(£17.50, Terroir Languedoc, www.terroirlanguedoc.co.uk; La Garrigue, Edinburgh)
Architect-turned-winemaker Catherine Roque is clearly a determined character with a gentle touch. Her pinot noirs are deliciously delicate and fragrant from her high-altitude vineyards. Pomaredes is her premium pinot. Forget Burgundy, this is more Loire-like. 12.5 per cent.
EMOTION OCCITANE 2005 LE MAS D’ECRITURE
(£12.50, Terroir Languedoc, www.terroirlanguedoc.co.uk)
Pascal Fulla’s USP is immense attention to detail: he calls his wine estate the writing lodge and there is poetry on his cellar walls. His red blends of syrah, mourvedre, cinsault and carignan have a wild fennel, sweet herby, spicy undertone. He uses both French and Russian oak. His Les Pensees red is even better, but pricier (£19.95). 14 per cent.
CÔTES DE THONGUE CUVÉE TRADITION 2013 DOMAINE LES FILLES DE SEPTEMBRE
(£9.75, Yapp Bros, www.yapp.co.uk)
Côtes de Thongue is not as well known as it should be, as this merlot, grenache and syrah blend is a cracking buy for those who like their reds simple, young, fruity and thirst-quenching. It’s made by Hugues and Roland Geraud, who are exploiting this undervalued terroir. Stoke up the barbecue, chuck on the steaks and chipolatas, and fill your glass with this lusty young red. 13 per cent.
FAUGERES 2011 CLOS FANTINE
Here’s a funky wild Faugeres that tastes so earthy it is like liquidised schist with a sprinkling of fennel, rocket and pepper. This is untamed Languedoc from wild untrained biodynamically grown vines and without sulphur added in the winery. A typical Languedoc blend of carignan, cinsault, grenache, syrah and mourvedre, this is a vinous experience that will take you right back to the wild herbs of the Garrigue. Delicious with spicy tapenade or coarse pâté. 14 per cent.
• Rose’s French Classics & Charcuterie Masterclass is at Abode Hotel, 129 Bath Street, Glasgow, 12 June, £40, www.rosemurraybrown.com