TAKE NOTE: THE LANGUEDOC IS PEACEFULLY BUILDING AN EMPIRE OF SUPERIOR ROSÉS THAT STRIKE ALL THE RIGHT NOTES
by Jessie Birschbach
Master Sommelier Michael Meagher once said “you can still do great things in board shorts and flip-flops,” and having grown up in San Diego, I naturally concur. It turns out, though, that Meagher wasn’t referring to southern California, instead referencing a sunshine-filled wine region in southern France: the Languedoc.
Meagher, who serves as Chairman Emeritus of the Boston Sommelier Society (which he founded) and the principal/owner of Sommelier On-Demand Hospitality Services, will lead a Languedoc-focused seminar at SommCon San Diego in November. During the Master Sommelier’s recent visit to the area last year, he was struck by the recent influx of foreign investment, as well as the trend of winemakers moving into the Languedoc. While many are migrating for the weather—perhaps even a better quality of life—it’s clear companies like Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) see potential waiting to be untapped in the region.
It appears they’re a tad late to the party: As representatives of a very tight-knit wine culture, the happy, sun-tanned producers in the Languedoc have been at it for thousands of years. In fact, one out of every three organic vineyards in France are located in the region. “You always just think of cheap, cheerful wine, but you don’t think about this organic movement having its roots—pun intended—in the Languedoc,” Meagher says. “That’s because they don’t need anything else than what nature provides.”
This perception ended up being yet another myth busted for Meagher as a result of his stay. “I was shocked at the wine quality,” he said. “Their rosés have what I call the power of Goldilocks: They’re not too light, not too heavy, not super-alcoholic, and not super-delicate. They possess this wonderful spectrum, a wonderful flexibility. You want wines that go with everything? Languedoc’s the place.”
Meagher’s love affair with Languedoc rosé began where he got his own start: a bistro-type restaurant where the region “was all over the menu.” But no matter the venue or concept, there are several benefits to offering this versatile category. “Wine lists embrace the Languedoc. It doesn’t chew up a ton of your inventory, and there always seem to be good deals out there,” said Meagher.
This value can be attributed at least in part to the region’s size. In fact, the Languedoc produces more rosé than Provence: roughly 1,930,000 hectoliters versus 1,216,000. This is perhaps the final misconception Meagher seeks to debunk: “I want people to stop seeing it as this giant, monolithic wine region,” he says. “It takes maybe an hour and a half to drive from Montpelier all the way down to Corbières. The food is amazing and the people will open their cellars to happily share their incredible wine.”
Meagher says he’d attribute this higher level of quality not just to the sunny personalities of its people, but to its regionality and the thoughtful way the appellation has formed its current boundaries. “The Vin du Languedoc has really fractionalized in a smart way,” he explains. “They kept the whole banner of AOC Languedoc but they’ve allowed its subregions, its crus, to really put forward the best wines they can and to reward those regions that have continued to push forward for quality.”
Even as a Master Sommelier, Meagher admits the region can sometimes be a bit challenging to summarize. “But that being said, once the world grows into it, I think it’s really going to put Languedoc at an advantage against these other emerging value markets. All these other places that are cutting quality just to get wines on the shelf are going to suffer.”
Its wines clearly prove the Languedoc is a terroir-driven region: Appellations like Fitou, Corbières, Minervois, and Faugères all produce quality rosés reflective of their respective place of origin. “Some of the oldest AOCs/AOPs in France are down around this area. Chateau de Lancyre, which is up in Pic Saint-Loup, is really right up against the Rhône and oftentimes gets lumped into it, so their wines have this wonderful structure and their rosés really are underrated,” Meagher says. “Then you look at something down toward Minervois like Château Coupe Roses—there’s more limestone and schist and clay soil, so their wines tend to be a little bit more floral and less dense with a lighter body.”
Whether the rosés are on the crisper or more substantial side, Meagher’s visit to the Languedoc has resulted in a refreshing perspective and perhaps a more realistic, up-to-date assessment of the area. Don’t let the weather fool you: As happy and easygoing as its culture may be, the Languedoc’s wines are quite serious.
A SENSE OF ADVENTURE AT COTE
As the author of Drink Pink: A Celebration of Rosé, Victoria James certainly knows the category well, having packed her educated insight on various production methods and favorite producers into the tiny book. Aside from being one of New York’s most celebrated sommeliers, James currently runs the wine program at Cote, a posh Korean steakhouse in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
James says she pours “one of the best values in the rosé world,” the Domaine de Fontsainte, by the glass at Cote. “Because it is from a lesser-known region [Corbières], it doesn’t cash in on its big name, so the price is still moderate,” James says. “The producer also isn’t trying to chase trends in winemaking and remains traditional and honest.”
James often relies on the Languedoc not just for value, but for quality as well. “There are so many great wines made today in the Languedoc that fly under the radar. Sadly, the nearby Provence region has ridden the wave of fame and the bulk of the Languedoc’s pink wine has suffered because of this,” James laments. “There are many gems from Languedoc, and the vast majority can be better in quality than Provence and many other French regions. There are less restrictions on grapes used, so avant-garde winemakers can experiment and the results can be quite fantastic.”
Like Meagher, James also makes sure to highlight the region’s broad spectrum of styles. “I don’t think a sommelier can properly characterize a Languedoc rosé by flavor profile since the region is so diverse, but one can by philosophy,” she explains. “Overall, these wines are much more off the beaten path and can offer great value.”
Doc Doc Goose: Five Outstanding Languedoc Rosés
Château de Lancyre 2016 Le Rosé, Pic Saint-Loup ($17) A substantial medium-plus body supports the dark and tart red fruit in this Pic Saint-Loup–based rosé tinged with purple flowers. The noticeable, silky tannins are likely attributed to the blend of bolder varieties: 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, and 10% Cinsault. This is an awesome direct-press, no-skin-contact, big-daddy rosé. The estate supports 198 acres of sustainably grown fruit on some of the coolest hillside in the Pic Saint-Loup, while the château—a 16th-century building built on the ruins of a 12th-century fort, has been run by the Durand and Valentin families since 1970.
HAND PICKED SELECTIONS
ChateauSainte Eulalie 2017 Printemps d’Eulalie, Minervois ($13) This no-nonsense, medium-bodied rosé is made via the saignée method with a blend of Syrah, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, and Grenache grown in organic, certified-sustainable vineyards. (The Coustal family renovated the entire estate in 1996.) Dominated by ripe red raspberries and uber-ripe strawberries, it also features a dash of talcum and a touch of spice, which come to light in the background on the finish.
MICHAEL CORSO SELECTIONS
Gérard Bertrand 2017 Château La Sauvageonne La Villa Rosé ($25) The first read on this onion-skin-colored, fascinating, and super-dry rosé reveals its non-fruit qualities. A striking salinity plays against muted grapefruit and just-ripe, tense stone fruit within the sturdy confines of a silky medium body. A bit of fresh sage wafts about in the distance. Old-vine Grenache is co-fermented with Vermentino and Viognier (old-vine Mourvèdre is also used). Only free-run and first-press juice is used from a whole-cluster crush; fermentation starts in stainless and ends in barrel. Overall, this wine is electrifying.
USA WINE WEST
Mas Jullien 2017 Rosé, Coteaux du Languedoc ($22) This saignée rosé made with Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre is fermented and aged in stainless steel. In addition to a substantial red-fruit quality and obvious savory minerality, a bit of playful, juicy watermelon creates balance as a touch of Tajín seasoning complements the wine’s weight.
ROSENTHAL WINE MERCHANT
Puech-Haut 2017 Prestige Rosé, Saint-Drézéry ($20) Light cotton-candy color with a buoyancy to match, this fresher-style rosé offers white peach, Rainier cherry, green-tinged strawberry, a touch of spice, and white, floral character. Ending with a dry lemon-rind finish, this Grenache/Cinsault blend is Biodynamically farmed in the clay-limestone soils of Saint-Drézéry in close proximity to Pic Saint-Loup.