The wines that were created for baguettes.

 


We’ve all heard the name Pays d’Oc, and many of us are familiar with the history of the French appellation, born as a replacement for the Vins de Pays ‘country wines’ of the past. These are the little engines that could. While Pays d’Oc is so much more than Vins de Pays was, it can be hard for wine drinkers to forget the connotation.
 
Snooth and Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer hosted a tasting featuring eight impressive wines from the region a few years ago. The tasting perfectly illustrated what Pays d’Oc means in today’s wine market. Before that tasting, I was not a believer. But that evening I discovered just how far the wines of Pays d’Oc have come over the last fifteen years. That's why I am still drinking Pays d’Oc wines today. And there are a few key grapes and producers who never fail to deliver.

A review of the region.

If the Pays d’Oc was a wine producing country, it would be the fifth largest country in the world; quite a feat if you stop and consider it. One out of every ten bottles of wine produced in France comes from the Pays d’Oc, and while much of this is what we might casually refer to as supermarket wine, there are wines at all quality levels emerging from the Pays d’Oc, and almost all are excellent values.
 
One advantage the region has over virtually all of France, even Europe for that matter, is that besides some regulations governing yields, the producers of the Pays d’Oc are free to plant what they want. In fact, today there are 56 grape varieties being produced as wine in the region. Used as we are to the concept of a variety being ‘right’ for a specific region, this might seem odd. The truth is that the Pays d’Oc encompasses terroir as varied as narrow valleys in the Pyrenees, to alluvial flood plains close to the coast, and limestone as one moves closer in towards the Cevennes mountains that run parallel to much of France’s Mediterranean coast. This helps create the unique weather patterns that allow the region such varietal flexibility.

Sauvignon Blanc

With so much flexibility, producers have been of two minds; some are looking to create signature wines that embrace the spirit of the region, while others look to the market in hopes that they can meet unfulfilled demand.
 
Take Domaine Les Fontanelles Foncalieu Sauvignon Blanc (available for $8 to $10 at major retailers). Crisp and pure, this is a wonderful example of Sauvignon Blanc that blends the fruit forward character the marketplace clamors for with some of the crispness and minerality that France’s Sauvignon Blancs are famous for. Inexpensive and a perfect partner for goat cheese and light dishes, it illustrates how Pays d’Oc has made the transition from the anonymous bulk wines of the Vins de Pays days to today’s fighting varietals.

Chardonnay

One of the great engines that has driven this move into the present for Pays d’Oc has been their ability to adopt some of the most important varieties as their own. Chardonnay for example, the world’s premier white grape, is well represented in the Pays d’Oc.
 
With wines across the style spectrum, the Chardonnays of Pays d’Oc can satisfy most any palate. Take the Vignerons d'Alignan du Vent Cinquante Cinq Chardonnay 2017 ($10). It is a fresh, bright example from France’s largest family run co-opnow in its fourth generation.
 
Premium price options are available, too. Take the Gérard Bertrand Cigalus Chardonnay 2016 ($45). It is a benchmark example for the Pays d'Oc, reflecting Gerard Bertrand’s ambition and confidence in the region. This Chardonnay competes with the world’s finest, spiced with a touch of Viognier and the freshness of Sauvignon Blanc barrel aged in French barrique.

Rosé

The Delatour Cuvée Premier Grenache Rosé 2017 ($7) is my current pick for a crowd. Buy it by the case. The classic rosé is produced from one of the most historically important varieties for the region, Grenache. It is made in what can only be called a classic dry yet light French Mediterranean style. The market is glutted with sub-par rosé at inflated prices. This is a shining star that over-delivers at an affordable price point. 

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