For a first timer getting a handle on the various wine regions of Languedoc-Roussillon it can be a bit daunting. In the U.S. these individual regions don’t get a lot of promotion so I contacted a local expert, Dominic George. Dominic is the owner of Le Wine Shop in Pézenas, and also is the guide / owner of Languedoc Wine Tours. Even Dominic admitted that he picks and chooses who he takes out on tours so I felt lucky he agreed to take us on a half day tour. (If you are reading this blog you must be seriously interested in wine so I think Dominic would consider you a good tour candidate).
Dominic picked us up early on our first day. Passionate and eager to show us around he was quick to share why Languedoc is “the most exciting wine region right now”. (see my side note) If you have any question about the area I’m sure Dominic would have an answer for it – he quickly fired back energetic responses to all of my questions.
The first place Dominic took us to was to Domaine la Grangette to taste their signature wine, Picpoul de Pinet. It turns out Picpoul is a grape variety and Pinet is the little town that has put this grape variety on the map. We were met by the owner, Michel Moret, a classic French gentleman who gave us a tour of the ancient winery followed by a tasting in their tiny, rustic tasting room. It couldn’t be more French – and we loved it.
The coast is not far away from here and some of the best oysters in France are farmed in a lagoon in Bouzigues. Dominic explained that pairing Picpoul de Pinet and Bouzigues oysters was THE thing to do here so we were already dreaming of an oyster lunch.
I had heard of Languedoc being a high volume region. This is true, but it is also not just about quantity. Back at Dominic’s shop in Pézenas, Le Wine Shop (an oasis for ex-pat Brits looking for English speaking wine advice) we tasted some of the best wines coming from regions you’ve probably never heard of, but definitely should know: Faugères, Corbières, Saint Chinian, Minervois and Fitou. We really loved the rosés and learned about what the French call “patio rosés” versus a “gastronomic rosés”. Dominic explained that this was the first year rosé consumption had exceeded white wine consumption in France.
At this point with several bottles of rosé to choose from, the familiar dilemma of suitcase weight limits once again came into question.
Domaine Saint-Hilaire, the estate where we stayed, is also a great place to do a tasting. We loved their wines and their estate manager Edouard Rainaut took the time to explain the estate’s history as well as give me a short tour of the winery and a tasting involving several of their 12 different varietally labelled wines – all of which again, were well-priced, solid examples of the region. Even if you are not staying there, the setting alone is worth coming for a tasting.
Side note: Wine in France is organized by a tier system. The highest quality wines tend to be produced according to Appellation d’origine contrôlée regulations – now replaced by Appellation d’Origine Protégée, the Protected Mark of Origin (called “AOP wines” ). All are considered classic examples of the region they are from. It can apply to all products but for wine it means no watering, specific grape varieties that can be planted, yield restrictions, limits to alcohol levels, production methods, etc. The two other tiers (wines that fall under the category of IGP or the lower category “Vin de France”) do not have to follow the strict AOC/AOP requirements and make things like irrigation legal. Dominic’s statement has a lot to do with wines labelled IGP and Vin de France that free up winemakers to be innovative, make decisions, plant what they want, irrigate when they want, etc. In America we are so used to this freedom, but in France people have mixed feelings about it. While the Languedoc wine industry has all levels, there is a lot being done there with IGP and Vin de France wines and even though they are not in the AOP category these are often REALLY good wines. There is also a noticeable commitment to organic wine production (“bio-wines”) and the Languedoc does appear to be taking the lead with this, certainly for France.
Domaine Saint Hilaire, winery & chambre d’hote
Le Wine Shop, Languedoc Wine Tours
Domaine la Grangette, Pinet
Other places that were recommended to us: (these will certainly be on my next trip!)
Paul Mas, The Arrogant Frog (wines)
Restaurant Côté Mas, Montagnac (restaurant by Paul Mas)
Gerard Bertrand, Château l’Hospitalet, Narbonne (hotel, restaurant, wine producer)