I confess, I am a wine heathen and know nothing about wine (I believe it is not necessary to spend more than 2.50 Euros on a bottle of wine). I have always been blissfully ignorant of wine rules and requirements and gone for the ‘Well I like what I like ‘and that’s good enough for me approach. There is a lot of snobbery in wine, a lot of marketing blah-blah and pretty labels, but at the core of it all there is a fundamental understanding of what is a well-blended wine from a well nurtured grape.
The Languedoc is the largest wine producing area on the planet – you could say it is the biggest vineyard in the world, but until recently the wine it produces was not well-know or respected. Quality was the mantra and it flowed and flowed – and was very much the wine for the workers but it was never the wine choice of connoisseurs. That is until relatively recently.
Whilst the AOC was formed to protect the origins and guarantee certain qualities of the wines was maintained, a Vin de Pays category was formed to allow growers to experiment more. This has now developed into IGP Pays d’Oc and has a much more flexible and creative production line. Not only has France itself resumed its top position in the international world of wines but there is an acceptance that the Languedoc produces “quality rather than quantity”. It has become rock and roll region of wine making.
I recently enjoyed an excellent wine tour led by Matt Saunders of Taste du Languedoc. This journey took me to two completely different vineyards with varying levels of wine which I classified as “good” to “really good” (you see what I mean about the level we are playing at?). He referred to some of the wines as “Punk Rock Adolescent” and said that the Languedoc IGPs were the “Anarchists of the wine world – bringing together lots of innovative young rule breakers to French wine making…”
The difference between the wine domains was about 80 hectares in size, 25 Euros between bottle prices and different cultivating processes such as using machines or working by hand. Having tasted all the wines they had to offer, I can assure you that it was by now a simple matter of taste as just about every wine I sipped was exquisite.
In between the domains we were taken to one of the fantastic restaurants in Les Halles in Narbonne. This is a covered food market and it is an explosion of sounds, colours and scents (all fabulous.) We dined on steak and duck – bought from the local butcher and flung over to the cook who grilled it in front of us, all washed down with… yes more wine!
I’ve learned that wine is not just the grapes and the soil (terroir), the sun and the rain, but the people and their new ideas – and the Languedoc is the region to watch. Take my word for it…
Honor Marks runs the Maison de La Roche, a once neglected wine domaine in Languedoc-Roussillon which has been bought back to life as gites.