Pete and I had a great introduction to the wines the Languedoc region of France during the Wine Bloggers Conference in August. This made us curious about the region, its climate and food. We decided to build a wine and food tasting from this experience.
The Languedoc AOC, in the south of France, runs from near the French border with Spain along the Mediterranean coast to Nîmes and the Rhone River. Grapes have been planted in this very large growing area since the fifth century BCE. This region has produced a large volume of wine over the years, though it has not always been known for high quality wine. More recently, there has been an emphasis on quality wine production.
While the classification systems in much of France have been defined for many years, and not changed very often, Languedoc is an exception to this. As recently as 2007 the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation was renamed the Languedoc AOC. There are 18 controlled origin appellations, corresponding to specific climatic regions within the Languedoc AOC, and then specific location names within these sub-appellations.
The climate and geography of this very large area, 150 miles from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Rhone River, are varied. The climate is generally described as Mediterranean. The areas nearer the Pyrenees have a climate produced by the meeting of the Atlantic and Mediterranean influences. These growing areas tend to be not as warm as the more eastern portion of the Languedoc, which is warmer due to the influence of the Mediterranean. In general, the growing season is warm and dry in this eastern portion of the Languedoc.
The geography is as varied as the climate. The soil types include pebble terraces, red sandstone, clay, shale, limestone, gravel and sandy. The elevation change ranges from near sea level to 1,000 feet on hillsides. The varied combination of climate, elevation and soil types is what gives the many appellations within this large region their unique character.
The major red grape varieties grown in the Languedoc include Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault. White varieties include Mauzac, Chardonnay, Chenin, Piquepoul, Bourboulenc and Muscat.
We decided a good way to discover the characteristics of these wines was to pair them with food from the region. It is also more fun to taste wine with others who appreciate good wine so we decided to have a Languedoc wine tasting party. We had six wines representative of four of the sub-appellations Limoux, Minervois, La Clape and Picpoul de Pinet. We had two sparkling wines, two white wines and two red wines. We decided to make one dish for each pair of wines. Then, to keep it simple, we put each pair of wines along with its dish on our dining room table. This gave us three tasting areas to circulate among. We asked our guests to make notes for each wine, commenting on how it compared to the other wine and how it paired with the food. The foods of the Languedoc rely on fresh local produce, olive oil, fresh herbs and tomato sauces. Pork, chicken, duck and beef dishes are common. Snails, goat cheese, seafood, oysters and anchovies are commonly used as well. The variety of food is as varied as the climate and geology!
Here are the wine and food pairings and what we thought of them:
NV Esprit du Sud Blanquette de Limoux and 2010 Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux paired with soft cheeses, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam Triple Cream and Laura Chenel’s Chevre and a country mix of olives.
First, a word about the differences between the two sparklers. The Blanquette de Limoux is made of 90% Mauzac and 10% Chardonnay. Blanquette by law must contain 90% Mauzac with the additional 10% comprising Chardonnay or Chenin. This sparkling wine had a toasty nose with apple, pear and almond flavors.
The Cremant de Limoux is made of 70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin and 10% Mauzac. The influence of the Chardonnay is evident in this wine. The flavors are clean with good acid and citrus flavors. The flavors are what I am used to tasting in Champagne and most other sparkling wines-crisp and steely. The Blanquette de Limoux had more unique, rounder flavors. Both were very pleasing to taste and paired well with the richness of the cheeses. The more complex flavors of the Blanquette stood up well to the more flavorful Chevre. The steely Cremant was great with the soft creamy Triple Cream.
The two white wines, a 2011 Domaine Astruc Marsanne and a 2010 Paul Mas Estate Picpoul de Pinet were paired with an asparagus and bacon quiche. The quiche contained both crème fraîche and a bit of goat cheese along with eggs and chives fresh from the garden. (Yes, I know, lots of fat here. We’re counting on the French Paradox to protect us!)
The Domaine Astruc is from the Limoux appellation and the Paul Mas Estate is from Picpoul de Pinet. In general, we thought the Marsanne had bigger flavors of citrtus, melon and flowers. It had good acidity and paired best with the quiche. The Picpoul had more minerality than fruit with good acid. It is a pleasant drinking wine, but was over powered by the flavors of the quiche. The Picpoul was pleasing with the Mt. Tam Triple Creme cheese as well. It would also pair well with seafood.
The two red wines, a 2010 Chateau Villerembert Moreau and a 2010 Chateau des Karantes Bergerie were paired with a cassoulet.
These wines originate from the La Clape and Minervois appellations respectively. Both of these wines were a hit with our guests. The Chateau Villerembert Moreau (45% Grenache, 35% Carignan and 10% Syrah) had a nose that is characteristic of Grenache to me. The flavors were complex with good acid and significant tannins. The Chateau de Karantes Bergerie had bright fruit and coffee flavors with significant tannins as well. We found both of these wines stood up to the complex flavors of the cassoulet.
For dessert I made a pear clafoutis. Technically, I should call it a pear flaugnarde, as the dessert is correctly called clafoutis only when un-pitted black cherries are used. Be that as it may, it was a light, not too sweet ending to the meal.
As an after dessert wine, we opened a Yalumba Antique Tawny Port from Australia. It was rich, nutty and flavorful. Dessert on top of dessert. We are very bad, but in a good way!
We found that this is a really fun, fairly easy to do a wine tasting. We prepared all of the food ahead of time, so we could taste and talk and not have to be in the kitchen when out guests were here. We were able to spend time tasting and chatting and just relaxing. We may need to plan another tasting party soon!
Disclaimer – These wines were provided as tasting samples.