Many moons ago when I first arrived in the UK nearly 20 years ago, I remember being totally baffled by my first encounter with French wine labels. Coming from a country where (at the time) the vast majority of all wines were bottled as varietal wine, I would stare at a French wine label reading “Chateau Haut Confusion, Grand Cru Classe, Graves, 1999” and draw a complete blank. Which was the estate and which was the area? And most importantly, what the heck type of grapes had they used?? The labels seemed willfully obtuse and user-unfriendly, designed to make those not familiar with them feel woefully under-equipped to make an informed choice. I did learn quickly though that you could pay A Great Deal for a bottle of French wine without really trying too hard and as we were on a budget, we quickly learned that the cheaper end of the French wine available in the UK was labelled “Vins de Pays d’Oc”. They were drinkable but uniformly unremarkable and simple and as soon as I had acquainted myself with French wine labeling conventions and started earning Pounds, I abandoned Vins de Pays d’Oc, never more to return. But I was in for a surprise on a trip last year to the Languedoc to learn what the Pays d’Oc label means these days and why there are plenty of reasons to get excited about the region.
To understand why Pays d’Oc is a region you should be paying attention to, it’s useful to understand the French wine classification system. All French wine is classified in terms of the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée, formerly the AOC) system, a hierarchical system of regulations originally developed in 1936 that determines where and how the wines may be produced; what grapes they may be made of; and their level of quality:
Vin de France (formerly vin de table – The broadest and most basic wine classification, available to any producer who makes wine from grapes grown in France. At this level, all that is required is that the grapes were grown in France and grapes from different regions may be blended. These wines are not required by law to list grape varietals, vintage, regions or production techniques on the label (although some choose to), and may not mention the region where the grapes originated.
Indication Geographique Protégée or IGP (formerly Vin de Pays) – each large IGP region in France has its own rules regarding which grapes may be grown, but in general the winemakers have far more freedom to experiment with both grapes and styles of wine. The grapes have to be grown exclusively within the designated region to carry that region’s IGP label. IGP wines are often labelled with their grape varieties.
(Although Vins de France and IGP wines are often perceived as being of low quality, some are excellent and made by renowned winemakers who have chosen to experiment and not to follow the rules of the AOP where their vineyard is located. Consequently they cannot label the wine under an AOP, but instead label it as IGP or Vin de France.)
Appellation d’Origine Protégée or AOP (formerly AOC) – a region/sub-region (e.g. Bordeaux, Champagne, Cotes du Rhone); village/commune (e.g. Saint Julien, Macon Villages); or specific cru/vineyard (e.g. Chateau Margaux) which has its own specific rules for allowed grape varieties, growing conditions, and minimum wine quality. There is little room for experimentation and innovation, but these wines often command higher prices because of the historic quality of wine carrying these names and consumer perceptions. AOP wines are seldom labelled with their grape varieties, relying instead on the buyer’s knowledge, for example, that Bordeaux reds are usually a blend of Cabernet and Merlot.
Mainland France is home to at least a dozen designated wine-producing regions, namely Loire, Champagne, Alsace, Bourgogne, Beaujolais, Rhone, Provence, Languedoc-Rousillon, Sud Ouest, Jura, Provence, Savoie and Bordeaux. The Languedoc-Rousillon corresponds roughly with the administrative region in southern France now renamed the Occitanie that stretches along the west coast of southern France from Provence to the Spanish border and the Pyrannées. The region is home to a staggering 750,000 acres of vineyards, three times the combined area of the vineyards in Bordeaux, and grapevines are said to have grown here since before the existence of Homo sapiens. Almost half the Languedoc-Roussillon’s vineyard area is used to produce Pays d’Oc IGP wines, wth an annual production of about 767m bottles. Within France itself, the Pays d’Oc IGP classification accounts for 16% of total French wine production. Pays d’Oc is best known as a source of varietal wines, and accounts for 92% of all French varietal wine (wine that is made from a single grape variety and mentions the variety on the label).
Originally, wines designated Vin de Pays were regarded as simple and inferior to AOC appellation wines. But since the late 1980s an increase in demand for varietal wines, partly driven by the success and demand for New World varietal wines, has led to an increase in production of Vin de Pays wines, especially Vin de Pays d’Oc. Many producers are keen to make varietal wines and experiment by moving away from the highly restrictive AOP rules – and considering that in Pays d’Oc there are a whopping 58 permitted grape varieties, the region offers producers considerable scope for creativity and innovation in viticulture, style and blending. Increased competition and the drive for higher quality has meant that some Vin Pays d’Oc wines are now considered superior to, and command higher prices than, AOP wines from the same area.
I was had the opportunity on my visit to taste wines from a number of producers – here is a review of what I tasted and, more importantly, what I loved. All my favourite wines are highlighted in bold below, throughout this post.
A visit to the Pays d’Oc IGP headquarters to taste the 2018 Collection
On the first day of our recent visit to Pays d’Oc we started by visiting the Pays d’Oc trade body headquarters to learn more about the region, see the room where the wines are tasted by the tasting panel and taste the 2018 Pays d’Oc IGP Collection. We were hosted by Pays d’Oc IGP communications manager Delphine Lorentz, who took us through all the impressive facts and figures of the regions and explained the various quality designations within the Pays d’Oc. Every producer in the Pays d’Oc region is entitled to bottle their wines under the “Pays d’Oc IGP” classification, and those who also fall into a smaller AOP within the region (e.g. Pic-Saint-Loup, La Clape, Fitou or Minervois) can also bottle under this AOP label, but then they must comply with the AOP’s rules and restrictions. Many winemakers are choosing to bottle under the IGP label despite being entitled to an AOP, precisely because of the creative freedom this gives them – hence the region’s unofficial slogan “Liberty of Style”. 93% of all French wine bottled under a varietal label comes from Pays d’Oc and 48% of the production is exported to 170 different countries. Worldwide, 24 bottles of Vin de Pays d’Oc are sold every second The region is also the unsung hero of French rosé production, producing more than Provence and a whopping 23% of the total French production – the top rosé producing region in the country.
We were also introduced to the Pays d’Oc IGP Collection which represents the high-end segment of Pays d’Oc IGP wines. Every year since 2006, the Vins Pays d’Oc IGP has curated a collection of wines that are felt to be the best of what the region produces and are used are used as ambassadors to showcase the quality and diversity of the region’s at marketing and trade events around the world for 12 months. The wines are chosen in a blind tasting by a panel of tasters from around the world, who fly into the Languedoc-Roussillon region each year for the judging. The 2018 Pays d’Oc IGP Collection (see also the 2019 IGP Collection) comprises eight whites, one rosé and 10 reds, three of which are certified organic – here is what I thought of them (my favourites are in bold)
- Serre de Guery Gewurztraminer 2017 – subtle rose notes on the nose and palate, long finish
- Domaine des Aigues Belles Premier Rolle 2017 – austere, almost no fruit in evidence
- Fortant de France Sauvignon Blanc 2017 – fairly grassy style, not very fruity, medium long finish
- Les Vignerons du Sommierois Viognier 2017
- Haute Blanville Grand Reserve Chardonnay Rousanne 2016 – straw nose, minerality but no fruit on the palate, lacking in roundness and fruit
- Domaines Paul Mas Vignes de Nicole Chardonnay-Viognier 2017 – good racy acidity, appley fruit
- Domaine Grand-Chemin Anthus Assemblage 2017 – stewed apple flavours and nicely balanced acidity – delicious
- Les Vignes De L’Arque Sauveur d’Automne Viognier 2016 (dessert wine) – apricot nose but not too sweet on the palate – lovely peachy flavours on the palate
- Calmel & Joseph Ville Blanche Grenache Gris & Grenache Noir rosé 2017 – fresh palate, lightly creamy mouthfeel, lovely red berry finish
- Domaine Gayda Figure Libre Cabernet Franc 2016 – minty, herby notes, a HUGE wine, lovely example of Cab Franc, medium finish
- Domaines paul Mas Mourvedre 2017 – fruity nose, integrated tannins, very nice
- Domaine Mas Belle-Eaux Petit Verdot 2017 – dark red fruit on the nose, deep colour, raisinny palate but quite bitter finish with medium tannins – not a favourite
- Domaine de la Metairie d’Alon Pinot Noir 2016 – concentrated red fruits, long finish, delicious
- Maison Castel Grand Reserve Syrah 2016 – dark jammy nose, beautifully balanced tannins with jammy fruit flavours and hints of dark chocolate
- Domaine les Yeuses Syrah Le Epices 2016 – almost meaty, saline nose, well-structured, dark fruits, notes of tobacco and spice
- Domaine Saint Martin des Champs Cuvee de L’Hermitage Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2016 – not much fruit but good structure and ageing potential
- Le Provenquiere Malbec Petit Verdot 2017 – meaty nose but quite a light bodied wine, restrained fruit, medium finish
- Domaine les Yeuses O d’Yeuses Marsellan-Cabernet Franc 2016 – Christmas pudding, almost port-like characteristics, some vegetal notes to balance the sweetness, long finish.
- Domaine Gayda Chemin de Moscou Assemblage Rouge 2015 – very restrained fruit, tastes surprisingly young for a 4 year old wine – would love to see how it develops
Domaine d’Aigues Belles first appears in official records 1870, when it was recorded as being in the ownership of the Palatan family who still own and make wine on the farm today. In 1902, in a move well ahead of its time, the farm started selling wine in bottles directly to consumers and in the mid 1900s, four generations of the Palatan family worked together to renovate the old cellar and pave the way for vinifying their own grapes and producing high quality wines. At the time of the renovation, brothers Louis and Robert Palatan ran the farm and today their grandson Gilles Palatan, together with his nephews Patrice and Thierry Lombard, continue family tradition of grape-growing and winemaking. It was Gilles who showed us around the cellar and then conducted a tasting of their impressive range of wines. Of the domaine’s 20 hectares, 15 hectares are vinified and bottled at the estate and the remaining grapes are sent to co-operatives for vinifying.
During the renovation the family pulled up a lot of old Aramont high-yield, low-quality grapes and planted Bordeaux varieties. Why specifically Bordeaux varieties we ask Gilles and his response, with a typically Gallic shrug, is “why not?”. At the moment the domaine’s oldest plantings are 60 year old grenache vines, and they bottle 3 whites; 4 reds and a rosé under their own label. All the grapes are hand-harvested and the grapes for the rosê are also hand-sorted. If we wanted a game-changing introduction to the quality that Pays d’Oc can produce, this was it. Here’s what we tasted:
- Cuvée du Poirier des Rougettes (rosé) – blend of Grenache, Cinsault & Mourvedre – a lovely onionskin colour, well balanced freshness and fruitiness with a very long finish. €9.99 at the cellar.
- Le Blanc – 100% Chardonnay barrel fermented – very grapefruity and surprisingly fresh with subtle vanilla notes. Shorter finish than white blend (see below
- L’Autre Blanc – 48% Rousanne 48%, 20% Chardonnay, 32% Sauvignon Blanc (the Rousanne and Chardonnay are barrel-fermented for 3 months). Powerful stewed apple nose, lovely round mouthfeel with flavours of spicy stewed apples to match the nose and a long finish. €16.90 at the cellar.
- Le Premier Rolle (Rolle being the local name for Vermentino) – 100% Rolle. Green apple nose; fresh and fruity with a good racy acidity – rather like a more restrained cousin of a Sauvignon Blanc.
- Cuvée Lombard – a blend of Grenache (50%), Merlot (30%) and Syrah (20%). Raspberry jam, inky cabernet sauvignon nose. Red fruit jam on the palate, nicely balanced tannins, lovely clean finish
- La Cuvée Nicole 2016 (Syrah 55% Cabernet Sauvignon 25% Grenache 20%). Meaty, dark blackcurrant nose; deep inky colour. Still quite closed with little evidence of fruit on the palate but showing great structure. Giles suggested keeping it for 10 years before drinking.
- La Grand Classique (a Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend) – bottled as an AOC Languedoc. We tasted two incarnations of this wine: the first was the current 2017 vintage (Syrah 50% Mourvedre 30% Grenache 20%), bottled literally on the morning of our visit, which was smoky on the nose but still very closed with little or no fruit on the palate. The second was the 2016 vintage (50% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah) which had a fantastic Christmas pudding and raisin nose with a touch of eucalyptus and had a lush, rounded palate with rich berry and dark chocolate notes – a fabulous wine.
- Cuvée L’Insolent is made from a different grape variety every year and we tasted 3 vintages: the 100% Syrah 2015 (a smoky bacon nose with a long smoky finish – delicious); the 100% Mourvedre 2016 (alcoholic, almost tequila-like nose, supple tannins, lush dark red fruit, perfectly balanced with a long finish); and the 100% Mourvedre 2012 (meaty nose with very little fruit, but complex and jammy on the palate with a long finish – totally different to the 2016 vintage)
Domaine les Yeuses is a family winery that has been owned by the Dardé family for the last 40 years. The oldest of the buildings on the estate were built in the 13th century by the Templars on the site of an ancient Roman villa, and today this is the winery where brothers Jean-Paul and Michel share the vineyard and winemaking responsibilities. The estate gets its name from a forest of evergreen oak trees (yeuses in the local dialect) although today they have nearly disappeared, replaced by a path of olive trees.
Located in Mèze, between the Mediterranean garrigue (scrubland)and the Etang de Thau lagoon, the vineyard is either on clay and limestone or on sandy soil and comprises over 80 hectares (197 acres) on gentle slopes which enjoy a maritime breeze. This unique location suits a wide variety of grapes and the geography of the vineyard gives its red, white and rosé varietal wines a lively acidity. Their tasting room is set under lovely old brick arches that kept us cool even in the the height of the Languedoc summer – and even came with a friendly winery calico cat, which pleased me no end! Having already tasted their O d’Yeuses red at the Pays d’Oc headquarters, I was expecting good things from their wines, and I was not disappointed. Best of all was the phenomenally reasonable cellar door pricing – not one bottle we tried was over €10 and the vast majority were under €7! The domaine produces 7 whites, 5 rosés and 9 reds – here’s what we tried:
- Domaine Les Yeuses Vermentino – fresh and fruity, notes of green pears
- Domaine Les Yeuses Viognier – classic straw nose and mildly apricotty on the palate
- Ô d’Yeuses Blanc 2017 – blend of Viognier and Chardonnay, of which 40% has been aged in French oak. Stone fruit nose and a lovely rounded mouthfeel.
- Domaine Les Yeuses Muscat Petit Grains – lovely floral, litchi fruit nose. Floral notes well balanced with acidity on the palate.
- Domane Les Yeuses Rosé Muscaté 2018 – a deep salmon colour and a tropical fruit nose with litchis and rose petals. A pleasant sweet red fruit palate.
- Delic’Yeuses Rosé 2018 (100% Grenache) – ripe berry nose with raspberry and strawberry notes. Fruity palate but with a fresh, clean finish.
- Ô d’Yeuses Rosé 2017 – beautiful pale salmon colour, fruity nose of ripe strawberries with hints of sweet herbs. Lovely smooth palate packed with red fruit flavours and a long creamy finish.
- Ô d’Yeuses Rouge 2016 (90% Marselan 10% Cabernet Franc)- powerful nose of blackcurrants, but with minty herbal notes and an earthiness. he palate is fresh with concentrated black fruits and smooth, supple tannins and has a lovely balance. Drinking very easily now but will improve with a few years cellaring
- Petit Syrah 2018- wonderfully spicy, herbaceous nose with blackcurrant and plum notes. The palate is soft and rounded, packed with dark fruit, liquorice and peppery notes, integrated tannins and a lingering finish. Outstanding value at under €10 at the cellar door
- Carignan – a deep garnet colour with blackcurrants and an underlying earthiness on the nose. The blackcurrant flavours carry through to the palate, offset by herbaceous notes and some soft tannins that keep it balanced. Overall a dangerously drinkable wine and only €6.40 at the cellar door!
- Les Allee des Oliviers 2017 (Cabernet Franc & Merlot) – mint and green notes but also dark ripe red fruit – a lovely long finish
Bruno Andreu at Bar Boeuf & Cow in Beziers
After nearly 20 years as marketing and production manager at Chateau la Condamine Bertrand, Bruno Andrieu decided to embark on a new adventure, buying a derelict Languedoc winery in the village of Montblanc. He invested €200,000 in renovating the 1000 square metres of buildings and the winery was launched in January 2018, vinifying grapes from his carefully selected winegrower partners. The selection of Bruno Andrieu wines is divided into IGP Pays d’Oc “Aromatique” varietal wines; AOP estates and chateaux; and the premium Bruno Andrieu Icon range. Bruno told us that the ranges are differentiated on the basis of age of the vines; yield; and the wine’s ageing potential.
In the first year of production, he exported 98% of the 700,000 bottles of wine he produced. In 2019 his wines were marketed in 20 countries around the world and 8 new wines were launched. Over lunch, Bruno also explained to us that he bottles his varietal wines under different labels for different countries, with the designs being driven by consumer demand. For example, in Belgium the labels might be quite traditional with pen and ink drawings of a chateau and a florid font; while in more adventurous markets they use more contemporary labels such as the botanically-inspired Aromatique range labels, and the rather appealing colourful animal labels that they are soon launching.
Image © and courtesy of Fabien Laine
We were fortunate to have Bruno join us for lunch at Bar Boeuf Cow in Beziers where he talked us through his range and we tasted:
- Aromatic Chardonnay – minerally, grapefruit, fresh, not much sign of oak
- Aromatic Sauvignon Blanc – beautifully aromatic & fresh with gooseberry flavours. Love it.
- Aromatic Grenache & Syrah rose – clear pink colour, fresh strawberry fruit, Just lovely
- Aromatic Merlot – Soft and drinkable, packed with ripe red fruit
- Aromatic Syrah – spicy, dark fruits, liquorice
- Aromatic Cabernet Sauvignon – blackcurrant, sweet red peppers, supple tannins
- Icon 100% Petit Verdot – 45 year old vines. Spicy nose with very ripe fruits, supple tannins, velvety and lovely
Bar Boeuf & Cow is a wonderfully casual summer venue (in winter they decamp to an indoor space), with tables spread out on a terrace and under the surrounding trees. Lunch was punctuated by the calls of wandering peacocks and noisy cicadas, and accompanied by heavenly smells of grilling meat from the charcoal grills. We started with a sharing charcuterie platter consisting of beautiful silky smoked duck breast, cured ham, a robust meat terrine, glorious little wrinkly black olives, sweet cherry tomatoes and sourdough bread. This was a fabulous match for the supple, fruity Merlot. This was followed by fresh, plump oysters paired with the Sauvignon Blanc. For my main, I had steak tartare and frites which I thought was superb with the Petit Verdot.
Dating back to the 15th century, the chateau at Domaine la Provenquiere in Capestang was initially called Puech Faucon, mostly probably after the birds of prey in the surrounding area. In the 17th century, the estate’s name was changed to Provenquière after its owner at the time, Jean Provenquier, and records dating back to the 1700s already show vines being grown at the property. In the 1800s Paul Teissonnière, counsellor to Napoleon III, bought the estate and undertook significant renovation work which transformed the working farm into a chateau. This included adding the top floor with its slate-clad roof and the distinctive round towers as well as building bathrooms on every floor – an unheard-of luxury at the time. In 1954, Tessionnière’s descendants sold the chateau and its land to Achille Robert, a wine negociant and the estate still belongs to the Robert family. Achille handed it down to his son Max and his wife Anny and their two children currently run the estate. Make sure if you visit to take a walk around the beautiful chateau and admire the grounds where you can picnic in the summer.
Image © and courtesy of Fabien Laine
The vineyards extend over 155 hectares and boast five distinct types of soils, namely pure clay; clay-limestone; blue marl; sandy river-bank alluvial; and clay-limestone & gravel (you can see samples of the soil types in the tasting room). This diversity of soils allows them to grow an astonishing 18 different varieties of red and white grapes and produce red, white and rosé wines. Until fairly recently the estate sold their wine only to negociants and a substantial portion of their wine is still sold to negociants who bottle it as IGP Pays d’Oc. But they now also produce a number of ranges under their own Provenquiere label including the Cuvee Signature rosé with its minimalist labelling and glass stopper. The signature rosé was sadly not available for tasting when we visited – here’s what we did have:
- Semillon/Rolle (Vermentino) (70/30%) – perhaps served a bit too warm? Good mouthfeel at first but lacking in acidity and with a rather flabby finish
- Pinot Gris rosé 2018 – pale onionskin colour, lovely strawberry notes and a very long finish. A bargain at €4.50.
- Petit Verdot Malbec 2016 – fruity red cherries and soft tannins
I have done a separate post on wine tasting and a jazz dinner at Gerard Bertrand’s Chateau L’Hospitalet.
Situated near Gruissan at the foot of the Massif de la Clape with its vineyards plunging on the sea, the Château le Bouïs is a 50 hectare estate with a 300 year history. Thirty four hectares of the estate is under vine and may produce AOP Corbières, IGP Pays d’Oc and (most recently) AOP La Clape. The oldest vines are 80 years old and the south-facing, sea-facing slopes combined with the stony soils provide the ideal climate for solar warmth, cooling maritime breezes, and strong deep-rooted vines. The estate takes its name from its ancestral owners, Les Bouïs, who transformed a rugged and stony parcel of land into one of Languedoc Roussillon’s largest wine estates. Around 1750, the Bouïs family settled there under a royal edict declaring that anyone who clears and plants land in La Clape could become the owner of the plot. The Bouïs, amongst other crops, planted vines but it was not until the beginning of the 19th century that mixed farming ceased and the castle truly became a wine estate. The Bouïs family died out for lack of a male heir and after changing hands many times, the property was acquired by current owner and female winemaker Frédérique Olivié in 2009. The estate currently grows seven types of red grape (Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault) and four white (Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc), all of which are hand-harvested.
Apart from winemaking, the estate offers several other options for visitors including on-site accommodation with sea views; or the Bergerie du Bouïs, the former barn which has been converted into a restaurant, run by Chef Jean-Marc Boyer, with a panoramic terrace offering a view of the vineyards and the sea. Visitors can also take part in tasting experiences; try their hand at being a winemaker for a day; or attend one of the many cultural and festive events are scheduled during the year including a classical music festival in April; a rosé-themed festival in July; and musical or gastronomy evenings. Before we tasted their wines, we got to experience the estate’s multimedia exhibition, The Legend of the Bouïs, which tells the story of the estate and its people, but also the story of its wines through interactive displays and activities.
We did our wine tasting in the beautiful cellar that also doubles as a function venue and here’s what we had (my favourite in bold):
- Cuvée Confidences rosé – billed as a haute couture rosé, this is the estate’s flagship rosé is presented in a bottle especially designed by Chantal Thomass. Made predominantly from Grenache with 3 months ageing on the lees, it has a pretty pale pink colour, characteristic red berry aromas and a fresh acidity on the palate with a creamy finish, although I could not discern much fruit on the palate. Defintely the more austere end of the rosé spectrum.
- Cuvée La Cigale rosé (65% Grenache, 35% Syrah) – an appealing salmon colour but a surprisingly herbaceous, almost green pepper nose. I also found the palate to be rather austere and herbaceous rather than the more characteristic berry fruit. The wine is named for the old Occitan word for a cicada and it is bottled with 6 different labels, all featuring a cartoon cicada – so if you bought a case, no two labels would be identical.
- Cuvée Arthur rosé (Grenache and Mourvedre) – named after a young fisherman from Gruissan who, according to legend, rescued an Italian knight from a storm in the Port of Narbonne. This is rosé, but not as you know it! Bottled in a green glass bottle and barrel-aged in second-fill barrels, it seems to have more in common with red wine than traditional rosé. There is ripe red fruit on the nose and a rounded mouthfeel on the palate with fresh acidity but fruity strawberry notes on the finish.
- Cuvée Juliette (Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan) – one of the first wines that Frédérique created and still one of the estate’s flagships, this is a handmade wine using whole-grape vinification. I loved the nose of black cherries and blackcurrants, but the palate seemed to present a different picture altogether, with a saline undertone and a robust tannic structure and little evidence of the fruit flavours promised by the nose.
- Cuvée Arthur rouge (old vine Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre; manual selection of grapes; 9 months in oak) – this is a big wine at 14,5% alc. and has a nose heavy with dark berries and cherries. There is still quit a lot of tannin on the palate and more acidity than I expected with some stemmy notes, but with spicy cinnamon notes on the finish.
Les Jamelles at M’11 Restaurant in Monze
Since 1995, Les Jamelles wines has been produced by Catherine and Laurent Delaunay, two young winemakers from Burgundian wine families, who met in 1986 while studying oenology. After his studies, Laurent spent a year in the USA and returned to France with a new outlook on wine and a desire to create his own range of varietal wines in France. As Burgundy winemaking in the early 1990s was very heavily restricted by rules, the couple moved to the Languedoc which had the benefit both of a massive array of grape varieties as well as being in the process of rewriting winemaking rules to allow winemakers more freedom of choice and expression in how they made their wines. They decided to build a brand from scratch that focused on varietal wines rather on the notion of terroir, historic grape blends and arcane labelling laws. Lacking in resources (no vines, no winery, no mone!y), but armed with great energy and determination, they travelled the Languedoc region extensively to meet growers and find excellent parcels of land. This eventually resulted in their enlist a few few growers who set aside grapes from their plots for the couple to vinify and experiment with. From their first vintage in the mid-1990s, they have marketed their wines to the US market where the wines were well received for their accessibility. The brand launched in France in 2010 and has gone from strength to strength with the construction of their own winery in Monze in 2015 and the purchase of their first vineyards in the same year, near Narbonne. Some of the range is available through the Co-op in the UK.
Catherine Delaunay is one of a small but growing number of women making wine in the region. Throughout the year, in particular during the harvest period, she travels the length and breadth of the region visiting the growers who work in partnership with Les Jamelles, supervising the vinification processes, organizing the aging of the wines, and carrying out the final blending once the wines have been aged. With each vintage, she ensures that the wines produced reflect the diversity of their terroirs and are complex and well-balanced. Athough we did not get to meet Catherine, we enjoyed a selection of her wines over a sunny al fresco lunch at Restaurant M11 in Monze. They produce three main ranges: Les Classiques (a range of 12 classic varietal wines that are expressive of their variety and the terroir); and Cepage Rare (a collection of heritage, little-known, or unexpected varietals in the South of France); and Selection Parcellaire (4 exceptional varietal wines that result from unique terroirs in the region). Here’s what we tasted:
- Les Jamelles Pinot Gris (Cepage Rare) – a lovely fruity nose with some floral notes and a fresh gooseberry palate with refreshing acidity
- Les Jamelles Viognier (Les Classiques) – a fruity, floral nose with notes of white peaches and blossoms, with surprisingly balanced palate with crisp green apple notes but with a creaminess which bears testimony to its malolactic fermentation and lees ageing. Delicious.
- Les Jamelles Gewurztraminer (Cepage Rare) – bright pale gold colour and a typical floral nose. Lychee and passion fruit notes on the palate but a relatively short, clean finish.
- Les Jamelles Rosé Mourvedre (Cepage Rare) – lovely subtle pale peach colour, deliciously fruity nose with notes of white peach and strawberry but with some lovely herbaceous notes on the palate for balance.
- Les Jamelles Chardonnay (Les Classiques) – a lovely pale gold colour and a slightly buttery, toasty nose with hints of apricot. The palate is balanced rather than exuberantly fruity, with nots of apricot and citrus and a pleasing nutty butterscotch lingering finish.
- Les Jamelles Mourvedre (Cepage Rare) – from 15-30 year old vines in the Bages lagoon basin. Intense ruby red colour and a rather shy nose, but a wonderful palate – rounded mouthfeel with velvety smooth tannins and concentrated fruit flavours of blackcurrant and thyme. A fabulous match for grilled meats.
- Les Jamelles Syrah 2017 (Les Classiques) – lovely deep colour and red berry nose with a slightly smoke undertone. Well balanced tannins and a punchy wild berry flavour with minty notes and a liquorice finish.
- Les Jamelles Vallée de la Boulzane Grenache Noir (Sélection Parcellaire) – grapes from near Boulzane in Haut-Rousillon are hand-picked, destemmed before vinification and benefit from barrel ageing. The resulting wine has a perfumed dark berry nose with peppery hints and a good tannic structure to complement its peppery blackberry notes.
Domaine Métairie d’Alon at M’11 Restaurant in Monze
Catherine and Laurent Delaunay (also from Les Jamelles, above), owners of boutique winery Abbotts & Delaunay, spent several years searching for an exceptional terroir in the South of France where they could craft great wines from their favourite grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They finally found it in the mountainous region surrounding the village of Magrie. The geography and cool climate particular to this part of the Languedoc meant that they could at last produce top-quality wines from their beloved Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Domaine de la Métairie d’Alon is an estate composed of 25 hectares of vineyards, divided
into 25 plots, which are located in 11 named vineyards surrounding the village. The label offers an excellent alternative to Burgundian Pinot Noirs at a fraction of the price. The estate is a certified organic producer that specialises in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines and we also tasted their wines over lunch at our Restaurant M’11 lunch. Here’s what we had:
- La Village 2017 Pinot Noir – a delightful nose reminiscent of the biscuits rose that you find in the Champagne region. The palate is packed with juicy ripe red fruits but with a balancing note of minerality. Lovely long fruity finish.
- Single vineyard Métairie Pinot Noir 2017 – made from the estate’s highest plot, making it the label’s most “Burgundian” pinot noir with a very limited production (just over 4,000 bottles in 2016). Surprisingly deep colour for a pinot noir and a nose of dark fruit (plums and cherries) rather than the red berries of the previous wine. On the palate, the 9 months in oak is evident in pleasant vanilla flavours to complement the more rounded fruit flavours, but with an excellent tannic structure to keep it all in balance.
- Single vineyard Solaire Pinot Noir 2016 – an entirely different, more smoky, “meaty” nose. A surprisingly accessible and delicious palate with a lot of upfront juicy dark fruit flavours but a balanced minerality and a clean finish. Delicious.
As I mentioned, we tasted the Les Jamelles and Domaine Métairie d’Alon wines over lunch on the terrace at Restaurant M’11 overlooking a vineyard across the road. The indoor restaurant looks cozy but on a hot summer day like the day we visited, all the action was outside on the enormous charcoal grill. The menu is short and to the point and (unsurprisingly!) focuses on grilled cuts of meat. I started with an enormous bowl of very fresh and tasty gazpacho but was immediatley struck down with menu envy when Pete’s terrine de porc aux foies volaille arrived – two doorstop sized slabs of silky pork and chicken liver terrine – wonderful with the Chardonnay. For our main courses we all had different cuts of grilled meat that we shared: rump steak, pork chop, lamb skewer, and duck breast – all served with a generous side salad and a massive portion of excellent pommes frites. The red wines all worked well with the various grilled meats.
Image © and courtesy of Fabien Laine
We finished the day at the wonderful Domaine Gayda, but that will be the subject of a separate blog post.
Many of the wines are available in the UK through various distributors and retail outlets – do let me know in the comments if you give any of them a try!
Pays d’Oc visitor info
GETTING THERE: The area is well-served with airports and direct flights from the UK serve Carcasonne, Montpellier and Perpignan. There are also high-speed TGV trains from Paris to Nimes and Montpellier.
Domaine Aigues Belles
Rond point du Bagnas
If you would like to visit the estate, call +33 (0)6 07 48 74 65 (Gilles Palatan) or +33 (0)6 87 78 29 24 (Gilles Pelletier) to make an appointment for a tasting or tour.
Domaine Les Yeuses
Route de Marseillan RD 51
Tel : +33 (0)4 67 43 80 20
Sales and tasting on site from 09h00-12h00 and 15h00-17h00 every day except Sunday and public holidays.
Domaine Les Prunelles
53 avenue de Béziers
Tel : +33(0) 4 67 315 848
Domaine la Provenquiere
Brigitte et Claude ROBERT
Route de Maureilhan
Tel: +33 (0) 4 67 90 54 73
Open for tasting and sales Mon-Fri 09h00-12h00 and 13h00-14h00; Saturday 09h00-12h00 (and April-Sept 15h30-18h00)
Route de Narbonne Plage
Tel: +33(0)4 68 45 28 50
Free tastings available 7 days a week. Guided tours of the vineyards and cellar plus tasting – July-August: every day of the week 10h30-17h30; April-June and September: every Saturday at 10h30 and 17h30. Price : Adult 15€, Children 7€
Château Le Bouïs
Tél : +33 (0)4 68 75 25 25
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening hours: 7 days a week, 10h00-12h00 and 15h00-19h30
Les Jamelles wine shop
1 Route des Corbières
Tél: +33 (0) 4 68 24 60 00
Opening hours: April to Aug – Monday: 09h00-12h00 & 14h00-17h30. Tues-Sat: 10h00-12h30 & 14h00-18h30; Sept to Mar – Mon-Fri: 08h30-12h00 & 14h00-17h30
Bar Boeuf & Cow
2505 Chemin Rural 10, Route de Bédarieux
Tel: +44 (0)6 06 50 24 15
1 Route des Corbières,
Tel: +33 (0)4 68 79 32 31
Tues-Sun: 12h00-14h00 & 19h00-21h00 (21h30 on Fri & Sat)
DISCLOSURE: I visited the Languedoc as a guest of Vins de Pays d’Oc but received no further remuneration to write this post. I was not expected to write a positive review – all views are my own and I retain full editorial control.
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