The French region attracting innovative winemakers

Vast and diverse Languedoc-Roussillon is continuing its move from quantity to quality

The region runs from almost as far east as the Rhone down as far south as the Roussillon’s border with Spain. It is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean to the south-east, the Pyrennes to the south-west and the Massif Central to the north. As master of wine and Languedoc expert Matthew Stubbs explained at a recent Languedoc masterclass hosted by Franco-Irish winemaking couple Laurent and Neasa Miquel, “that varied cocktail of ingredients” of climate, altitude and aspect allow this region “to produce every style of wine in one place”.

Last week’s column focussed on Limoux, one of 50 AOCs (Appellation Origine Controlees) within the region; others include the old favourite Corbieres and new darling Picpoul de Pinet. It also contains 19 IGPs (Indication Geographique Protegees, formerly Vin de Pays). As per AOC rules, IGP indicates where a wine is from and what grapes it can contain, but is less-stringent on everything from higher vine yields to naming varietals on labels.

That large volume of AOCs and IGPs adds to the region’s diversity of style. There are 58 authorised grape varieties between them, with new ones regularly added. Our wine of the week, for example, was originally classified as a Vin de France, as Laurent Miquel was the first Languedoc winemaker to plant Albarino; the variety has since been permitted within IGP Aude.

Sixty years ago, the region’s wines were largely made by big cooperatives rather than individual growers, producing huge volumes of wine — up to 10pc of the world’s wine in the 1980s. It still makes one-third of all French wine, but lower average yields (from 200hl/ha to 40hl/ha) now result in higher quality, more expressive wines.

Land is cheap here relative to other wine regions, allowing incoming winemakers to buy old vineyards or plant new ones at accessible prices. Besides encouraging inward investment from producers in regions like Burgundy (as in Limoux), it makes the region attractive to new winemakers who often bring an open mind and appetite for experimentation. That open mind is a strong asset for today’s winemakers as they face a future in which the only certainty is change and fresh challenges.​​

Wines of the week

Laurent Miquel Cote 238 Pech Gentille Albarino 2023

Laurent Miquel Cote 238 Pech Gentille Albarino 2023, IGP Aude, 13pc, €16 (often €12.80) With candied fennel and peach aromas, this fresh, dry Albarino is from single-parcel vines at Chateau Auzines in Corbieres. Rocky clay-limestone soils and high altitude lend a purity of fruit, saline minerality and laser-sharp acidity, making it a perfect pairing for seafood. Miquel planted the vines in 2009 (the first Albarino in France for 400 years), built a reservoir for sustainable rainwater management and is future-proofing the 250ha estate with regenerative agriculture. Dunnes Stores;

Specially Selected Picpoul de Pinet 2023

Specially Selected Picpoul de Pinet 2023, Languedoc-Roussillon, 12.5pc, €9.99 The best of several Languedoc whites in Aldi’s spring-summer cellar (the others being a floral Viognier-Grenache Blanc from Coteaux de Beziers IGP, and a fleshy Pay d’Oc IGP Chardonnay), with richly mineral, briny notes and Picpoul’s signature fresh finish making it seafood heaven. Aldi

La Baronne M…Autrement 2022

La Baronne M…Autrement 2022, Vin de France, 11.5pc, €20.75 A lighter alcohol red wine that still delivers dark fruit flavours but with lots of freshness, from an organic and biodynamic family-run winery near Corbieres, where 15-year-old Mourvedre vines grow in gravel terraces on calcareous soil. A versatile pairing, from midweek pasta to barbecues. Wines Direct, Mullingar & Athlone;

Laurent Miquel Solas Reserve Pinot Noir 2022

Laurent Miquel Solas Reserve Pinot Noir 2022, IGP Pays d’Oc, 13.5pc, €10.70 Solas means ‘light’ in Irish, ‘pleasure’ in old French, and this bright Pinot Noir blend from cool-climate Limoux and warmer Minervois drinks well with or without food. Expect tangy fruits (wild cherry, raspberry, cranberry), herbal lift and crunchy character. The Viognier is equally pleasing. Dunnes Stores;

Domaine de la Dourbie Mala Coste Rouge 2018

Domaine de la Dourbie Mala Coste Rouge 2018, AOP Languedoc, 14pc, €26.95 With wild garrigue herbs and rich dark fruit, a blend of heat- and drought-resistant Cinsault with Syrah and Grenache from north-west-facing slopes (the cooler ‘bad side’, pre-global warming), fermented in clay eggs before blending and ageing in old oak barrels. €23.95 until May 15. Mitchell & Son;

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