Patrick Schmitt, the very articulate editor of The Drinks Business and a fellow MW, recently conducted a series of three webinars on the Pays d’Oc, looking at three specific themes, namely the varietal and commercial aspect of the Pays d’Oc. Organic and sustainable followed, and third was Native and Novel.
First Patrick introduced the Pays d’Oc. Robert Skalli was pioneer of what was then called Vin de Pays d’Oc, back in 1987, focusing on varietal wine, which was unusual in France at the time. His brand, Fortant de France, sold 80,000 bottles at the end of the 1980s. In contrast, in 2021 the annual sales of Pays d’Oc are predicted to be 800 million bottles; that is 24 bottles sold every second! There are 120,000 hectares classified as Pays d’Oc out of a total of 240,000 hectares in Languedoc Roussillon. They account for 10% of the French vineyard area and 16% of the total French wine production. They are ten times bigger than Burgundy and the same as Argentina in volume, with 1000 independent wine estates and 160 cooperatives. The colour breakdown is 48% red, 26% white and 28% rosé, so significantly more rosé than Provence.
The strengths are numerous. The wine growers have an enormous amount of liberty. Fifty-eight different grape varieties are now allowed, so that the Pays d’Oc account for 92% of all varietal wine from France. The permitted varieties continue to evolve with Albariño, Tempranillo and Sangiovese amongst more recent additions to the list. Merlot is the most widely planted varietal for Pays d’Oc; surprisingly perhaps Pinot Noir comes 4th. Marselan is becoming more important. We are also seeing a re-emergence in Carignan, as the emblematic variety of the Languedoc. For white wine, varieties like Viognier. Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and Marsanne are important, as well as more international varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon. Pays d’Oc accounts for one third of France’s plantings of Chardonnay and Sauvignon and one quarter of its Merlot, as well as 60% of its Syrah. Blends are also developing in importance, rising from a meagre 2% to 7%.
Patrick talked about the strengths of the wines, their scale, their image, with their diversity and authenticity. He rightly suggested that they complement the appellations, which have more controls and are more terroir driven, whereas the Pays d’Oc gives a wine grower more freedom and creativity. And they also represent great value for money.
Talking about Organics and Sustainability, Patrick focussed on the advantages of the Languedoc for organic viticulture, especially considering the climate. The winds are all important, an important cooling and drying influence, with the Mistral, the Tramontane, the Marine and the Autan, as well as the 300 days of sunshine, which allow for low-intervention viticulture. The Pays d’Oc’s annual production of organic wine is 67 million bottles, so there is an enormous choice.
In the final webinar Native and Novel, Patrick looked for unusual blends or more obscure varieties, and for this, I was lucky enough to receive the accompanying samples, eight dinky little bottles. So this is what I tasted.
2018 Domaine de Puilacher, Circulade Blanc
A blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Vermentino. From an estate in the Hérault Valley, north west of Montpellier. Fermented in stainless steel vats, with some time on the fine lees. Light colour. A rounded nose, with hints of pear. I would have expected the Viognier to be more obvious, with some peachy notes, but no. The palate was rounded and textured, lightly buttery, with a dry finish, and a slightly bitter, refreshing note on the finish. Suggested UK retail price £10-15.
2018 Domaine de Figuières, Impetus Blanc
A blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier and from a property within the appellation of la Clape, close to Narbonne. Fermented in barrel. Light colour. Some peachiness on the nose and quite a rounded palate, with well integrated oak. A slightly salty tang on the finish. Suggested UYK retail price £16-20.
2019 Les Domaines Barsalou, Grenache Gris
From a group of three estates, based in the Corbières. A pure Grenache Gris, with just the merest hint of pink, after some maceration on the skins Rounded ripe fruit on the nose and palate. Supple and textured. Very satisfying and at less than a suggested UK retail price of £10.00 very good value.
2019 Mas la Chevalière, Rosé
A blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Cinsault. A little colour. Quite fresh raspberry fruit on the nose and palate, with some salty acidity on the finish. Quite fragrant, delicate and fresh. The grapes are picked at night. Fermentation in stainless steel vats. Minimum filtration. A lovely example of a Languedoc rosé, competing very well with Provence. UK Retail price - £10 - £15. This comes from an estate outside Béziers, that was bought a number of years ago by Michel Laroche of Chablis fame, and is now part of the Advini group.
2019 M. Chapoutier, Marius, named after Michel Chapoutier’s grandfather.
A blend of Grenache and Syrah. Ten days maceration. Ageing for five to eight months in stainless steel tanks. A great combination of ripe cherry fruit from the Grenache, balanced by the spiciness of the Syrah, producing Languedoc sunshine in a glass. Young colour. Rounded spice; ripe without being jammy. With no oak and a fresh finish. UK retail price £9.80
2018 Serre de Guéry, l’Esprit d’Eloi, Petit Verdot
From an estate in the village of Azille, in the heart of the Minervois. Petit Verdot is a grape variety more commonly found in Bordeaux and almost never as a single varietal anywhere, and certainly not in Bordeaux. In the Languedoc, it benefits from the heat and sunshine and ripens well, as this example shows, with a deep colour, after 12 months ageing in barrel. Rounded cassis fruit on the nose. Quite intense and ripe with quite a tannic edge on the finish. Still very young. UK retail price £12.00
2018 Les Jamelles, Les Traverses, Sélection Parcellaire, Mourvèdre
Half the grapes are destemmed, and half not. One month on the skins. Ageing in 500 litre barrels of three wines until the summer. Quite a deep colour. Quite a firm restrained nose, with an elegant palate and considerable potential. Youthful, fresh and nicely balanced. Les Jamelles is a brand developed by Laurent Delaunay, one of the Languedoc’s most successful winemakers. Mourvèdre performs well in a Mediterranean climate and this comes from 40-year-old vines. Suggested UK Retail price £20-25
2018 Domaine d’Aigues-Belles, Cuvée Nicole
A blend of Syrah, 75% and Cabernet Sauvignon 25%. From an estate in the Gard, near the Pic St Loup. A very successful blend which I liked this a lot. Deep young colour. Fresh peppery fruit, and on the palate, elegantly ripe red fruit. Well balanced, with a fresh tannic streak. It has spent 12 months in oak, and the oak flavours are nicely integrated. An excellent finale to the tasting and series of webinars.