As a retailer in Durango, it’s been fascinating to study consumer habits over the past couple months of non-commital winter weather.
Up until the past couple weeks of winter-like weather, consumers were thirsty for white wines and the dwindling 2016 rosés. However, with the arrival of snow and colder temperatures, consumers have boldly switched back to the hearty winter reds more typical for sub-freezing temperatures.
For those seeking to explore a new style of bold earthy reds, look no further than the sun-soaked Languedoc-Roussilon region of southern France. Languedoc is located on the western coast of the Mediterranean Sea, west of Provence, and butts up against the Pyranees mountains that border Spain.
This relatively unknown region was once known for lackluster bulk wines that were considered plonk. It wasn’t until the ’90s that a handful of small producers began to lower yields and increase quality. Interestingly, the Languedoc-Roussilon region is arguably the largest appellation in the world, making upwards of a third of all French wine. While the region makes an array of wines including white, rosé, cremant (sparkling) and dessert wines, the reds are the standout.
The wines of the region vary in style largely due to soil composition. The wines further south and closer to the coast are from more alluvial- and clay-based soils and as a result, offer softer and fruitier wine. Further from the coast, both north and west, the soils change to that of schist, stones and limestone. The resulting wines are considerably more complex and structured and are most similar to the wines of Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Vacqyeras. The wines closer to the coast resemble the softer, juicier Cotes du Rhone wines. The region’s black grape varieties mirror those of the Southern Rhone appellations mentioned. Syrah, grenache, mourvedre and cinsault dominate the landscape.
The style of the wines can range from light and juicy to deep, spicy and full bodied. Aromatically, the wines offer notes of raspberries, white and black pepper, licorice and herbs de garique. In most wines, herbs de garique dominate the bouquet (wild rosemary, thyme and lavender) and make for excellent pairings with foods prepared with the same herbs. The reason for this uniqueness is that the overwhelming majority of producers utilize the native yeasts that exist on the grape skins. This is a prime example and definition of terroir. Producers that innocculate with commercial yeasts lose out on the sense of place that native yeasts create. Yes, you can smell the landscape in the wine!
Because of the size and lack of awareness of Languedoc, the region offers amazing values for consumers. Sure, there are a few producers that fetch prices upwards of $100, but this is not the norm. Most are under $20 and are considered to be bargains for the quality. The best appellations to seek out are Corbieres (rare), Faugéres (very rare), Minervois, St. Chinian and the larger appellation of Coteaux de Languedoc. Thanks to the region’s warm and sunny climate, the wines are always ripe, spicy and approachable.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.