Monday, March 24, 2014

Tasting Organic Wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon

This report was first published in the daily wine blog Terroirist.

If the Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest French wine region, it’s also the greenest. The Languedoc-Roussillon is home to some 20,830 hectares of organic vineyards, farmed by 1,245 producers, according to 2012 figures from the French Bio Agency. That’s nearly a third of the 64,800 hectares of vineyards across France that have been certified organic or are undergoing conversion. (1 hectare translates to a bit less than 2.5 acres.)

The courtyard at Domaine Cazes in Rivesaltes. IJB.
I recently spent five days wine tasting my way through this vast region. My trip was centered around the 2014 Millésime BioFair, a trade show in Montpellier focused on promoting organic and biodynamic wines. The fair was organized by SudVinBio, an association of organic Languedoc-Roussillon winemakers, which brought over a group of wine writers and sommeliers from the United States and Canada.

On the first day of our trip, we drove west from Montpellier to the small town of Rivesaltes, home of one of the region’s many Vin Doux Naturel sweet wines. I spent the two-hour drive looking out the window, observing this land of contrasts. A field of knotty old bush vines abutted an IKEA superstore. Campfires smoldered in the middle of trailer park sites. Newly pruned vineyards sat on one side of the road, abandoned vineyards on the other, their vines left to fend for themselves amidst towering weeds and mustard grass. Crumbling construction sites, covered in graffiti, looked over the pristine blue of the Mediterranean. I was beginning to understand where all those Vin de Pays d’Oc wines came from, and perhaps where they got their earthy, rustic character.

Before lunch, our group gathered in a tasting room at the organic powerhouse Domaine Cazes. SudVinBio had amassed more than 70 bottles of organic wine from all over the Languedoc-Roussillon for us to taste through. Most of the wines carried price tags in the 6 to 12 Euro range, although a few scattered bottles cost upwards of 25 Euros. To be honest, the tasting was a mixed bag. Yes, the Languedoc-Roussillon still carries a reputation for insipid wine and crummy winemaking. While lots of producers are doing their damnedest to turn things around, many of these wines tasted dull or bitter or reeked of brett. But among the mediocre, a few wines stood out and demanded attention.

My notes on a few of those wines...

2012 Château de la Liquiere Faugéres “Cistus” - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Faugères
My first Faugeres blanc, and I’m liking it. Peaches, whipped honey and hazelnut on the nose. Creamy palate, fresh acid, slightly nutty and creamy. Nice mineral kick. A blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Vermentino. Not too big, but grabs your attention. (88 points)

2012 Les Chemins de Bassac Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue “Isa” - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue
Peach, cantaloupe melon and vanilla on the nose. Rich texture, a bit oil, but medium acid helps balance it out. Honeycomb, white peach, yellow apple and a waxy note. Nice finish. Solid stuff. (86 points)

2012 Château Montfin Corbières - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Corbières
So spicy on the nose, with wild strawberries and white and black pepper. Crisp and pepper on the palate, with red flowers, watermelon and a sense of purity and minerality. (87 points)

2013 Château Vieux Moulin Corbières - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Corbières
Aromas of grapefruit, strawberry greens and nettles. Tangy and light on the palate, with white pepper, minerals and green grass on top of lemon and grapefruit. A fresh, salad-friendly wine. Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah. (85 points)

2012 Domaine de Cebene Vin de Pays d’Oc “Ex Arena” - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d’Oc
Complex aromas: sweet red flowers, bright cherries and spicy pepper. Firm, grippy tannins meet fresh acid on the palate. The black cherry fruit is concentrated, mixing with nuts, dried flowers and herb garden. Complex, deserving of contemplation and a few years in the cellar. (89 points)

2012 Gérard Bertrand Vin de Pays d’Oc “Cigalus” - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Vin de Pays d’Oc
Complex and classic aromas of currant, tobacco leaf and pencil shavings. Juicy black cherries and plums on the palate. Creamy tannins and fresh acid form a velvety mouthfeel. Flavors of soil, pepper, cedar and graphite add complexity. Head and shoulders above most wines in the tasting. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Of course, this was also one of the most expensive wines in the bunch at 28 Euros. (90 points)

2011 Château Costes-Cirgues Coteaux du Languedoc - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Coteaux du Languedoc
Deep aromatics: violets, earth, mixed berries and cedar. Full but fresh on the palate with dense berries, olive, smoked meat and cedar. Solid length with floral notes on the finish. Syrah and Grenache. (88 points)

2011 Domaine de Cebene Faugères “Felgaria” - France, Languedoc Roussillon, Languedoc, Faugères
Definitely one of the best wines of the tasting, and I think this was almost unanimous in everyone’s enthusiasm. Roses, olives, charcoal and currants on the nose. Silky and pure with delicious cherries and plums. Good structure, fresh acid, secondary flavors of charcoal, dried flowers and pepper. Long and sexy. (89 points)

For a full-on assault of tasting notes, click here for my CellarTracker report on this tasting of organic Languedoc-Roussillon wines.

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