I'm not a wine writer, but I play one on the Internet, and when people ask me if they have to spend a lot of money to get a great bottle of wine, I say, "No way!" Let those yahoos with more dollars than good sense lay out the big bucks for overpriced bottles that aren't worth half of what they're paying. There are plenty of fine wines from around the world available for a fair price, and there's not a better place to start than the Coteaux du Languedoc, and in particular, Pic St. Loup, in southern France.
For those unfamiliar with the territory, Pierre-Antoine Rovani thumbnails the region as follows in Issue # 127 of The Wine Advocate: "This vast area (given appellation contrôlée status in 1985) includes vineyards in three French departments, Aude, Garde, and Herault. It runs from Nïmes in the north to Narbonne in the south. Consumers will find wines labeled merely with the appellation of Coteaux du Languedoc, as well as those where the individual village names are affixed." Regarding Pic St. Loup, he continues: "Pic Saint-Loup has some of the Languedoc-Roussillon’s most avant-garde, highest quality producers. They have staked out their reputations in the rocky soils of this area north of Montpelier. The quality of the Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre has been impressive, and the finest wines rival some of the top Rhône Valley efforts. Along with Montpeyroux, Pic Saint-Loup is one of the most exciting areas of the Languedoc-Roussillon for the 21st century." (Click here for a map of the region and more background information.)
Here’s a rundown on what we’ve found to be tasty from this area lately:
1995 Chateau de Lancyre Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup, 65% Syrah, 35% Grenache, $12.99, 12.5% alc.: Whenever we're in our old home town of Bay City, Michigan, I always make a point of stopping to see my friend Jay Crete at the Ideal Party Store. I've been buying wine from Jay for 25 years, and it seems that there're always some special little treats lurking and lingering on his shelves. This is the latest goodie that I've found, and I must have brought home almost a case over the last year or so, a bottle or 2 at a time.
Chateau de Lancyre is one of the biggest, and best properties in Pic St. Loup. The fruit comes from vineyards located 15 to 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean, at elevations of almost 2000 ft. above sea level. During the summer, daytime temperatures can reach 105° F., and then plunge to 60°, 50° and even lower at night, allowing for some of the longest hangtime in the Languedoc. (Syrah is often harvested there in early October, rather than late August, as in much of the rest of the region.)
There's still not much rust to the dark garnet color here, and the exuberant earthy plum, blackberry underbrush nose follows through on the palate with good acidity and some tannins yet to resolve, which keep the finish from being all that it could be at first. However, it opens nicely with an hour in the glass; a warm note of chocolate emerges and the tannins soften noticeably, making for a good bargain, considering that it's 4 years removed from the current vintage and what the '99 model is now going for. Despite the tannins, I don't think this will improve with further age, so drink up and enjoy.
1999 Chateau de Lancyre Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup, 65% Syrah, 35% Grenache, $19.99, 13.5% alc.: After enjoying the '95 so much, I was happy to find this at one of my favorite local haunts, Cloverleaf Fine Wines and Spirits in Southfield. I wasn't all that surprised to find that my impressions of it were very much similar to those of the other, with the obvious difference being the mellowed nature of the older version. The '99 is a deep dark garnet, just shy of being inky, and shows a hint of the barnyard over rich plum and blackberry bouquet, with a little garrigue lurking in the background. Flavors echo with at least a few years worth of tannins, good acidity and a nice finish. A note of chocolate really comes out with air, and the underbrush-garrigue is accentuated considerably; it just gets better and better as it opens, but a few more years will help this even more. Kim is every bit as enthusiastic about this as I am, and you can bet that there is more lying down in the cellar from h3ll.
1998 Chateau de Lancyre Coteaux du Languedoc Hautes Terres, 40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% Carignan, 10% Cinsault $13.99, 13.5% alc.: This also came from Cloverleaf, and as good as the other two are, I wonder if I don't like it even better. Produced from vines of between 20 to 70 years of age, with yields of 45 hectolitres per hectare (3 tons per acre), it saw 1 year's aging in large old oak, and another year in bottle before release. It's also a not-quite-inky dark garnet, with a nice blackberry, plum and chocolate bouquet that is shaded with little hints of game, leather and iodine. With flavors to match and expand on the palate, there are added notes of dust, smoke and some distinctive garrigue. It has good acidity and it's not that tannic, being full bodied, dense and concentrated, with an almost velvet texture that belies its relatively modest price tag. It has a delicious complexity, and a satisfying finish that lingers. It should improve for a year or two, and while I have more stashed away, I'll have a hard time keeping my hands off now. Yumm!
Imported by Hand Picked Selections, Warrenton, VA
2000 Château La Roque Coteaux du Languedoc Pic St. Loup, $12.99, 13.5% alc.: The nose on this dark garnet gives some nice raspberry and blackberry aromas with just a hint of sweet vanilla, but the flavors veer a bit more to the dark berry spectrum, with at least a few years worth of tarry tannins and good acidity. It finishes nicely, if a little stemmy right now, and hints of garrigue come out with air. It has plenty of fruit to enjoy tonight with some grilled red meat or a hearty stew, but it can only improve. It’s not the "Cupa Numismae," but it’s still pretty tasty.
Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA
1997 Domaine Clavel Coteaux du Languedoc La Copa Santa, $16.99, 13% alc.: We love Pierre Clavel's La Copa Santa, and when I ran into this vintage last summer in Massachusetts, I thought, why not? I held on to it until just recently, finally deciding to take the plunge and see what it has to offer. Composed mainly of Syrah and lesser proportions of Mourvedre, it's a dark garnet in color, with a deep, dark plum and blackberry bouquet showing accents of subtle chocolate and a hint of garrigue. These follow through on the palate with more chocolate and garrigue, and a smooth textured yet rich, intense core of fruit. It has good acidity and enough tannins to develop for a few more years, and if it doesn't finish quite as long as one might like, it doesn't just die either. Harmonious and satisfying, it's not overly complex, but it is very nice.
Imported by Arborway Imports, Lexington, MA
1999 Domaine Clavel Coteaux du Languedoc Les Garrigues Terroir de la Majanelle, $13 Can., 14% alc.: We had heard great things about this wine being the lesser priced sibling of La Copa Santa, but never saw any around Day-twah to try. Then Alan Kerr gave us a shout saying he could get us it from the LCBO's Vintages in Ontario, and we jumped right on some. La Majanelle refers to the rolling hills overlooking the Mediterranean where Clavel’s vineyard is located. The wine is a deep dark garnet with a deep dark plum and blackberry nose that's pleasant, if not exactly overly expressive; a little whiff of spicy perfume comes out with vigorous swirlatude. The chewy, mouth filling flavors pick it up bigtime though, with youthful exuberance and added notes of underbrush (the so-named garrigue) and cola. This needs time to settle down, with its significant tannins and racy acidity. It finishes fairly long, and would finish longer, but for the aforementioned tannins. Still, there's such a hit of fruit here, that you can't help but like it already, especially with some grilled red meat.
Represented in Ontario by Le Merla Wines, Toronto, Ontario
2000 Château Saint Martin de la Garrigue Coteaux du Languedoc Cuvée Tradition, $10.99, 12.5% alc.: We last tried the '98 version of this wine, and liked it quite well. This one is dark garnet, with an earthy blackberry and plum perfume that shows a bit of heat, but the bouquet doesn't exactly explode from the glass. It tastes downright grapey though, generally echoing the aromas in the straightforward flavors, with a couple of years of tannins to shed and good acidity and a decent finish. Nothing exceptional here, just a solid red that's worth the $9.90 (with a case discount, of course).
Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, "Ok, so what makes these 7 Languedocs lucky?!"
I don’t know. I guess I just like the bounce and the roll of those 7 little syllables!
Copyright © 2002 George Heritier