One of the most challenging things about trying to assimilate all the information in the required reading and from the lectures given in the Intensive Sommelier Training at the International Culinary Center. It requires going from being able to recognize the facts about the various wine regions, to being acquainted with all the information and finally to fully know - understand, retain, recall and be able to explain - the wine region in its entirety.
Many people when they hear the National Anthem recognize it for they have heard it performed at sporting events. Then there are people who can, from memory, sing the “The Star-Spangled Banner”. But then there are some people who not only recognize the anthem and can sing it, they know its authorship, history and all the notes of this song.
It is that degree of understanding the Wine World that I am seeking to achieve. The challenge is we are trying to absorb SO much information that the temptation is to just study to pass the exams, “What do I need to know for the Certified Sommelier exam?”
While the Certified exam is the first step, it isn’t my ultimate goal. But, the truth is we can only absorb so much information and if I try to cram it all in I may not retain the most pertinent which is needed at this stage in the learning process.
What is clear as we approach the end of Unit 2 is that France is unbelievably complicated. So, as soon as I pass the Certified Sommelier exam I need to immediate return to this subject and go over all this information again, restudy all my notes and increase my depth of understanding of this region.
Languedoc-Roussillon is not only France’s largest wine region; it is THE largest in the world! It has almost 800,000 acres under vine, tens of thousands of growers and an annual production that rivals that of the entire United States of America.
More than 30 different grape varietals are grown in the region including Rhône varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, and Cinsaul as well as Boreaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. They also produce Chardonnay, Muscat and Mauzac. They also produce a wide variety of styles including white, red, rosé, dry, sweet, fortified and sparkling wines.
Languedoc-Roussillon as is similar to California in its terroir as it has a warm, sunny Mediterranean climate which provides generous yields and easy ripening. Unfortunately, much of this wine is mediocre but recent innovations and upgrades are beginning to improve the quality of this region. Most of its production is dedicated to vin de pays wines usually labeled Vin de Pays d’Oc.
In the far western sector, known simply as Roussillon, most of the production is focued on sweet dessert white and red wines. The only dry wine producer of note is Côtes du Roussillon and the stricter northern subregion known as Côtes du Roussillon-Villages. Both produce simply fruit forward wines made from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, and Cinsault.
The largest as most well-known AOC in Roussillon is Corbières located mostly in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Corbières primarily focuses on Carignan based red blends (95%) and about 3.5% is dedicated to rosé wine and 2% to white production. Other grapes grown include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Lledoner Pelut, Macabeu, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Piquepoul blanc, Piquepoul Noir, Terret Blanc, Terret Noir and Vermentino.
To the east of Corbières are the rolling hills which make up Coteaux du Languedoc. It consists of thousands of acres of vineyards which produce average quality red wines, mostly from Grenache. The most notable districts are Le Clape, Montpeytroux, Pic Saint-Loup, and Picpoul de Pinet.
Some of the most well-known AOC wines in Languedoc-Roussillon are vin doux naturels or “naturally sweet wines.” These are white wines made throughout the region made from Muscat Blanc Petits Grains and Muscat Alexandria and the red wines are made from late harvest Grenache.
Although Champagne is more famous for their sparkling wines, the Languedoc-Roussillon has records of producing them for a century before their northern neighbor. Most of these are done in the mèthode tradition using the Mauzac grape (sometimes called Blanquette) although Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc are also used. The most well known areas for sparkling wine production are the far western regions Blanquette de Limoux and Crèmant de Limoux.
The large southwestern corner of France is known as Sud Ouest, or in English “South West.” To the north it borders Bordeaux, to the west it borders Spain and Languedoc- Roussillon to the east. The Dordogne River runs through the north of end the region. The climate of the Sud Ouest is fairly consistent and is dominated by the influence of the Atlantic Ocean.
The primary red wines consistent of Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and the white wines are made of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. However, the further south you travel the less they resemble Bordeaux. They also produce some unique wines such as Armagnac. The most notable ACO appellations are Buzet, Cote de Duras and Bergerac known for its Bordeaux blends and subregions such as Monbazillac and Saussignac.
The most well-known wines of the Sud Ouest come from the Cahors AOC, southeast of Bergerac. It is best known for its “black wines” (as they were called in the medieval times) particularly for its Malbec, known locally as Auxerrois. Southeast of Cahors is Gaillac where they produce white, rosé, red wines and a small amount of sparkling from indigenous grape varieties such as Len de L’eh, Braucol and Duras.
The most well-known and top-quality producer in the Sud Ouest is Madiran which specializes in Tannat based red wine blends.
The Jurançon (pronounced jur on sahn) wine region is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Along the slopes are vineyards of Gros Manseng and Peite Manseng grapes which produce dry (40% Jurançon Sec, a dry white) and sweet wines (60%).
Bordering Spain’s Basque country close to the Atlantic is the appellation of Irouleguy where red and rosé wines are made from Tannat and white wines are produced from Courbu.
Learning Objectives of Unit 2 - Day 9: Languedoc, Roussillon, and Sud Ouest
At the beginning of class lectures a list of learning objectives is provided to the students. By the end of the class, the students should have a certain degree of understanding from their own reading and the lectures and be able to provide the answers to list of questions. Learning Objectives for Unit 2 - Day 9 along with the answers are as follows.
By the end of class, students should be able to:
(1) State the rough geographic location of Languedoc and Roussillon
Answer: Languedoc and Roussillon is a large region in the south of France that stretches from Nimes and Montpellier in the east, around the Gulf of Lyon to the Spanish border.
(2) Name the famous sparkling wine of Languedoc.
Answer: Blanquette de Limoux
(3) Name a Vin Doux Naturel
Answer: A Vin Doux Naturel, a designation reserved for AOC wines obtained by mutage; stopping fermentation by adding vinic alcohol. Banyuls AOC and Banyuls Grand Cru AOC are strictly Vin Doux Naturel AOCs.
(4) State what major wine regions that surround the Southwest
Answer: To the north it borders Bordeaux, to the west it borders Spain and Languedoc- Roussillon to the east.
(5) State the grape of Cahors
(6) Name the AOC for the Tannat grape.
(7) Describe the attributes of any wine we tasted today.
Answer: See below
On the ninth day of Unit 2 we tasted the following nine wines:
1. 2008 Château de Lascaux Blanc, Pierres d'Argent, Languedoc
This wine is a blend of Marsanne, Roussane, and Vermentino. This is a clear white wine, light gold at the core to yellow at the rim with minimum variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of golden apples, pears, orange blossoms and a hint of honey. On the palate it has flavors of dried peaches, apricots, oxidized apples, vanilla bean and a hint of butterscotch and oak. It has medium+ acidity, medium body high alcohol and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $21.
2. 2011 Domaine d’E Croce, Yves Leccia, Patrimono Blanc, Corsica
This wine is made from Vermentino (or 'Rolle' in southern France). This is a clear white wine, straw-yellow at the core with minimum rim variation, low concentration and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas of dried pineapple, peach skin, dried herbs and a unique hint of peanut butter. The fruit of this wine seems rather stale and it has distinct notes of chalk, pistachio and sesame seeds. It has medium+ acidity, medium body and medium+ alcohol with a medium length finish. This wine sells for about $30.
3. 2010 Terrases du Larzac, Les Vignes Oubliees, Coteaux du Languedoc
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Cinsault. It is clear ruby-red with minimum pink rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of stewed plums, dried roses, leather, dried earth and a hint of pepper. On the nose it is dry, with flavors of black cherries, black currants, pepper, eucalyptus, and pepper. It is dry with alcohol sweetness, it is soft on the mid-palate and yet it has medium+ tannins that grip the teeth and gums, medium+ alcohol, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish. It has flavors of dried black fruits, cooked strawberries, pepper and oak. This wine is very rustic and tastes like an inexpensive southern Rhône red wine and it needs some food to go with it. This wine sells for about $25.
4. 2010 Château La Roque, Pic Saint-Loup Cupa Numismae
This wine is a blend of Syrah (65%) and Mourvèdre (35%), it aged for 18 months in oak (1/3 new, 1/3 neutral, 1/3 two year-old barrels). It is a clear red wine that is dark ruby at the pork with minor pink rim variation, medium+ viscosity and ears that stain the glass. On the nose it is clean with aromas of blackberries, black cherries, and damp earth. It has flavors of black cherries, black currants, eucalyptus and menthol, chalk and pepper. On the palate it is soft on entry and through the mid-palate but then the chewy medium+ tannins kick in. It has medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish. This wine is also very rustic so the fruit doesn’t seem fresh and lively. I have tasted wines like this in Central California, but they did not have as high acidity. This wine sells for about $20.
5. 2009 Clos Coutale, Cahors
This wine is a blend of 80% Malbec and 20% Merlot from 25 year old vines planted on gravel, limestone, and clay. It is clear, ruby at the core to slight pink with minor rim variation and medium+ viscosity and tears that stain the glass. On the nose it is clean and youthful with subtle aromas of blueberries, blackberries, and violets. On the palate it is soft on entry with flavors of blueberries and blackberries. It is dry with medium acidity, medium+ body with medium+ alcohol that adds a touch of alcohol sweetness, and it has medium+ tannins that grip after the wine has passed the mid-palate followed by a long finish. This wine sells for about $6 to $12. It wasn’t the most complex wine in the world and not bad at that price range. But it left me wondering…. couldn’t the school come up with a better representative of Cahor? Or is this typical of the region? I have only had one previous experience with this region so I’ll have to look for some better bottles.
6. 2008 Domaine de la Grange des Peres, Vin de Pays de l’Herault
This wine is a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Mourvèdre, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon from vines that average about 20 years on glacial scree and limestone soils. It is opaque and dark black at the core to garnet at the rim. It has moderate aromas of cooked black fruits, raisins, teriyaki soy sauce, charred meat, green olives and a hint of black licorice. On the palate it has flavors of dark chocolate covered cherries with influence liqueur, tobacco, coffee and a salty minerality. It has medium+ tannins, medium+ alcohol which adds a touch of sweetness and medium+ body, and a lengthy medium+ finish. This wine sells for about $98 but I have seen it listed for as high as $115.
7. 2008 Domaine La Tour Vielle, Collioure, Puig Ambeille
This wine is a blend of Grenache and Syrah. It is a clean red wine that is dark ruby at the core to garnet at the rim with medium+ viscosity and staining tears. On the nose it is clean with subtle youthful aromas of black cherries, blueberries, and black pepper. On the palate it is soft on entry with flavors of cherries, dark chocolate and tobacco. It dry with medium+ tannins that grip after the wine passes the mid-palate, medium+ acidity, medium+ to high alcohol and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for about $28.
8. 2010 La Magendia de Lapeyre, Jurançon
This wine is made from the Petit Manseng grape, a small-berried cousin of Gros Manseng, a light-skinned variety that some believe to be genetically linked to Albarino. It is clear, gold with low intensity, star-bright and medium+ viscosity. It in clean with moderate aromas of glazed pears, mango, honey blossoms, and candied ginger. On the palate it is had medium+ acidity, medium- body, medium+ alcohol and it has a long nutty clean finish. The sweetness of this wine is upfront and then dissipates so it may actually pair better with spicy foods than be served as a dessert wine. This wine sells for about $28 per 375 ml bottle.
9. NV Domaine La Tour Vieille, Banyuls, Reserva
This wine is made from a blend of 35% Grenache, 35% Grenache Gris, and 30% Carignan from 45+ year old vines grown on schist soils. This wine is clear dark ruby-red at at the core to violet and garnet with minimum rim variation and medium+ viscosity and tears that stain the glass. The nose is clean with medium intense aromas of both dried and ripe fruits; blackberries, raisins, baked berry pie, black licorice, vanilla, herbs. On the palate it is almost port-like but not as viscous – it has medium tannins, medium to medium+ acidity, medium+ to full body, and a long finish. This wine sells for about $23-$26.
The South West of France is sort of a half-way between Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley – geographically and enologically – in the grapes that are grown and the styles of wine. But if these are fair representatives, the quality of these two other regions is not in the South West.
 Before class started I reviewed a Malbec from Cahor, you can read it here: http://worldofwinetastingadventures.blogspot.com/2013/10/2009-chateau-reces-malbec-cahors-aoc.html