Hello from France. I’m over here in the Languedoc-Roussillon in advance of the Millesime Bio conference next week, an event which is billed as the world’s largest organic and biodynamic wine fair.
The organizers, who brought me over to the fair on a press trip, have organized a couple of days prior to the fair that involve some visits in the region and a little tasting here and there.
Today we headed down to the little town of Rivesaltes for a tasting of a bunch of organic Languedoc wines.
As France’s largest wine region, and one that has historically been heavily associated with Europe’s oversupply of wine, the Languedoc has been evolving over the past few years. In particular, the Languedoc has seen an increased interest in organic and biodynamic viticulture.
With a windy, Mediterranean climate, resulting in quite low disease pressure, the region is relatively easy to farm organically. The Languedoc now contains 5% of France’s organically farmed vineyards. The region produced 25 million bottles of organically certified bottles of wine in 2010, and in 2012 that number has leapt to 69 million, from a whopping 1245 organically farmed estates. Data is not yet in from 2013, but the amount of land under certified organic farming grew 6% from 2011 to 2012. In one small corner of the region known as the Rousillon, almost 45% of the vineyards are organically farmed.
Since global demand for organic wine continues to increase at a remarkable pace (in France alone, it has doubled in the last five years) the Languedoc would seem to be in a place of opportunity, especially if it can deliver organic wines of quality at the value prices that the region is already known for in the market.
It was with that opportunity in mind that I eagerly anticipated the tasting this afternoon of 70 organic wines from across the region.
Unfortunately, I came away somewhat disappointed. Many of the wines were poor, some clearly faulty, and only a few worth recommending at all. While these 80 wines represented only a tiny slice of the many wines on offer (less than 50 of the 1245 organic producers) they weren’t particularly encouraging.
The wines suffered from the many ailments you often find in an emerging wine region: over-oaking, over-(and occasionally) under-ripeness, over-extraction, and, in many cases, the leafy bitterness that can come from machine-processing grapes in large quantities. A significant number of the wines were also flawed with VA, Brett, and excessive reduction.
But while I found myself honestly disappointed by the tasting, I still have some wines to recommend to you, some of which stood head and shoulders above the pack of lackluster bottles.
These few bottles, at least, point to the possibility of turning the region into one of the world’s best sources for reasonably priced organic wines. I’ll be spending the first three days of next week at Millesime Bio, where I’ll have a chance to taste more, so I reserve my final judgment until then.
2013 Domaine Cazes “Canon Du Maréchal Blanc” White Blend, Cotes Catalanes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of green melon, bright green apple, and white flowers. In the mouth the wine has a shiny floral quality, and a crisp green fruit character that ranges from honeydew to green apple skin. Excellent, zingy acidity and a complete lack of sweetness makes this a crisp and tasty wine that begs to be sipped ice cold on the hottest of summer days. Not particularly complex, but pleasant enough. A blend of Viognier and Muscat. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $11 click to buy.
2012 Château la Liquière “Cistus Blanc” White Blend, Faugères, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Palest gold in the glass, this wine smells of slightly peachy wet stones and beeswax. In the mouth the wine has an angular and appealing crisp minerality through which flavors of peach, golden apples, and beeswax seem to filter. Excellent acidity and a long stony finish. Quite tasty. A blend of Clairette, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Bourboulenc. 14% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $18
2012 Château de Nages “Vielles Vignes” White Blend, Costières de Nîmes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Palest gold in color, this wine smells of unripe pear, unripe apple, and wet stones. In the mouth a deeply mineral quality pervades the wine along with tart green apple flavors that leave a crisp and thirst quenching impression on the palate. A blend of Clairette, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Bourboulenc. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $15 click to buy.
2011 Le Conte de Floris “Lune Blanche” Carignan Blanc, , Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of honeysuckle, new oak, and poached pear. In the mouth, bright pear and honeysuckle flavors are unfortunately tinged with a bit too much new oak, but not so much that the quality of this fruit fails to come through. I found myself cursing the new wood for even slightly obscuring this delicious wine. Would have been truly excellent without the scent of lumberyard. As it is, the wine is still quite drinkable, and for those who don’t mind a little wood, it will definitely please.Excellent acidity and underlying minerality. Made from the much less common Carignan Gris grape, a mutation of the better known red Carignan. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $36
2013 Château Beaubois “Elègance” Rosé Red Blend, Costières de Nîmes, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Palest baby pink in color, this wine smells of watermelon and strawberry. In the mouth the wine proves to be bright and crisp, with red berries and wet stones that bounce boisterously across the palate. Juicy and pleasurable. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $13
2011 Domaine Costes-Cirgues “Bois du Roi” Red Blend, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet leaves and mulberries. In the mouth, thick tannins wrap around deeply earthy flavors of mulberry and cassis that have a wonderful loamy quality. Excellent acidity, and great length. This is a dark and mysterious wine. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $47 click to buy.
2012 Les Eminades “La Pierre Plantée” Red Blend, Saint-Chinain, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of bright mulberry fruit with a hint of wet chalkboard underneath. In the mouth pleasant and bright mulberry and cassis flavors bounce with a cheerful simplicity across the palate. Crisp and clean and a helluva wine for the price. Complex? No. But tasty nonetheless. A blend of Syrah, Cinsault, and Grenache. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $11
2011 Domaine Cebène “Felgaria” Red Blend, Faugères, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of leather, earth and cassis. In the mouth, flavors of cassis and dark wet earth are wrapped in thick tannins and shot through with a lovely stony quality. Airy, somewhat floral notes emerge on the finish. Tasty and quite serious. Stood out strongly from a group of 80 organic Languedoc wines tasted in a group. A blend of Syrah and Mourvedre. Score: around 9. Cost: ??