As we spend time this summer exploring new wine regions it’s worth pointing out that these endeavours need not be expensive. Of course some of the best discoveries are those that are easy on the wallet. Wines that over deliver at their price points and expand our understanding, and enjoyment of the fruit of the vine. Case in point: the Languedoc.
We may all have some idea of what comes from this region in south west France, but it can only be somewhat of a vague idea. You see the Languedoc stretches over some 16,000 square miles and includes within its borders a wide variety of appellations, some of which also include a rather wide variety of wines and styles.. And to add another layer of confusion there is also a straight Languedoc AOC. Today I can’t say that I will clear up much of the confusion, but that is not my point. The first step in presenting these wines is to make you want someone to clear up the confusion with!
So here we have a big region with many wines being produced. What should we be looking for? I’ll follow up on this article with a look at some of the whites of the region, and in particular Picpoul, which is my mission white of this summer. Today however, with grilling on my mind and the memories of a particularly exceptional burger fresh at hand (dry aged, grass fed beef, home ground and served on a cheddar biscuit bun!) I thought it would be a great moment to say, hey look over here. These are wines that are familiar yet different. The hit some of your sweet spots, yet at the same time pull you a bit outside of your comfort zone.
Mostly what I happen to be talking about, for the third time this year (sense a trend?) is Carignan. The red wines of the Languedoc are, in many ways, similar to the wines of the Southern Rhone, though the inclusion, and in fact emphasis on Carignan does set them apart. They tend to share some of the plump textures we are familiar with, yet tempered by the leanness of Carignan. They also tend to share some of the very ripe fruit, yet again reined in by the distinctly savory and fresh nature of Carignan. It is fascinating to witness the transformation of a region, and the Languedoc has been working hard for over a decade to be sure,, working to move from a region that was best known for, and continues to be known for, great value wines to a region that is producing great wines that are compelling values. A trait that the region shares with a few other Carignan rich regions.
There is of course also plenty of Syrah and Grenache here in the region, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, though I think many of us might be more intrigued by the Carignan rich blends. Interestingly the wines I sampled here, an admittedly tiny sampling, showed rather restrained, elegant and refreshing mouthfeels, not something I would generally associate with wines from Southern France. The times they are a changin as they say. It is simply fascinating to witness wineries and winemakers dial in their vines to produce wines like these, wines at entirely appropriate and affordable prices.
And back to that burger if I may. The flavor profile of Carignan, one that I am working to better understand this year, seems ideally suited to the slightly gamy, slightly sweet, rich flavors of great beef. At the price being charged for these wines one could certainly splurge on a great steak but there is something about them, the texture and intensity, that gets me craving that great burger when I try them. It’s just another way that these wines fit within the casual framework we have for enjoying wine. They are something a little different but are so well suited for pairing with foods that are oh so familiar. Try some for yourself this summer. I’m sure you’ll find them as intriguing as I did.