Friday, June 10, 2011

Heading South for the Summer: The Reds of Languedoc

As the temperature rises, so does one's desire to drink crisp, refreshing white wines. The seemingly natural disposition to enjoy whites in warmer weather is, no doubt, the result that these wines are often served chilled. Add a little air conditioning or some flavorful BBQ, and our palates easily make the adjustment back to taking pleasure in reds. The case has even been made that hot regions produce reds perfect for summer sipping because the locals need to enjoy them year round. 
 
When it comes to hot climate viticulture (and reds well-suited for enjoying in the heat) few places can compete with the Southern French region of Languedoc. The Languedoc is France's proverbial grape-basket; the area possesses three times as many acres under vine as Bordeaux. As France's largest wine region, the area is known for producing many phenomenal values under the appellation level of Vin de Pays, which translates roughly to "country wine". This level of appellation is less strictly defined than its Appellation d'origine controlee counterpart (which goes much further in its restriction of permitted grape varieties, maximum yields, and other regulations). Vin de Pays wines are usually labeled with the grape variety on the bottle, so there's little question as to what’s inside. Wines like La Source Cabernet Sauvignon and  Alois Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre typify the clean and expressive fruit-forward nature of their stated grape varieties .

The Languedoc does have its fair share of its Appellation d'origine controlees, or AOC's. Perhaps, its best known are Corbières and Minervois, both located in the western half of the region. This can be rugged terrain with Corbières essentially being the foothills of the Pyrenees. Both of these regions produce hearty reds from grape varieties like Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Carignan. In fact, the regulations governing both appellations dictate that the wines must contain at least two varieties, meaning they have to be blends. A wine like Castelmaure "Col des Vents" Corbieres offers a perfect introduction to the region, medium-bodied and spicy, while Domaine Faillenc Sainte Marie Corbieres, is fuller and more analogous to Zinfandel with its raspberry-driven palate. Both appellations produce reds that scream for meat from the grill, from homemade hamburgers to lamb kabobs.

In the eastern end of the region, lesser known appellations such as Saint-Chinian and Faugères are slowly, but steadily making names for themselves. Saint-Chinian is blended wine that hails from a relatively mountainous area where vineyards can often be found at altitudes of over 600 meters (1970 feet).  A wine like Borie La Vitarele "Les Terres Blanches" Saint-Chinian offers up rich flavor with soft, ripe tannins. Vineyards in Faugères can be at similarly dizzying altitudes, while their wines are round and smooth. A wine like Chateau des Estanilles "Tradition" Faugères is a easy-drinking enough to be served with a slight chill. Faugères is a wine best enjoyed in youth as its smooth tannins don't need to be softened with age.

So next time you head outside with a glass of wine this summer, consider a red from Languedoc. This viticultural frontier has much to offer, and a plethora of appellations to explore. And that's without even mentioning some of the region's crisp, delicious whites.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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