Great Values From France: Languedoc and Roussillon!

5/6/16 -

The Languedoc/Roussillon region in the south of France continues to offer sensational values from both a new wave of natural wine producers and from long-established organic estates that offer delicious under-valued wines for current everyday drinking and medium-term aging.

A visit to Eric Laguerre in Saint-Martin de Fenouillet requires steep climbs through a mountain pass up to the highest vineyards in the Roussillon. Here the granite soils, cool climate, very low yields and Eric's superb organic farming produce distinctive, balanced wines with bright fruit and firm acidities. A fascinating array of grape varieties do well in this terroir, despite the hordes of hungry wild boars that attack his vines each autumn. His 2015 Eos Blanc, for example, a unique blend of Maccabeo, Grenache Blanc and Vermentino, offers pretty aromas of pear, citrus, herbs and minerals, with great balance and length - at $12.99 it's one of the best values in the store. All of the Laguerre wines are unique and distinctive -  perhaps our favorite of this shipment is the 2014 Ciste Blanc, which adds Marsanne and Roussanne to the blend, creating a wine with gorgeous aromas, along with firm acidity and mineral flavors from the granite soils. We're very proud to be working with Eric, who took over the family vineyards in 1999 and has turned them into one of the finest organic estates of the Roussillon!

Thierry Navarre, the third generation on his family's estate in Saint-Chinian, tends 12 hectares of vines including Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, Oeillade, Terret, Clairette, Grenache Gris and Ribeyrenc on mountainside slopes of brown schist. Thierry uses no chemical products, only composts and natural herbal preparations with manual and mechanical working of the soil. Thierry is particulary happy to preserve the ancient grape varieties of the Languedoc - the 2015 red and rosé Vin D'Oeillades are delightful expressions of this forgotten cepage (perhaps a relative of Cinsault), which offer lovely floral, berry and plum aromas with great freshness and low alcohol - be sure to give them a try! The 2013 Cuvée Olivier, from Thierry's oldest vines of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah, is a remarkably deep and complex wine that is delicious now and will cellar well for ten years or more. Although we love to visit Thierry at his home in Roquebrun (best rabbit stew we've ever had!), his yearly trips to the Dive Bouteille in Angers are a great opportunity to taste his new offerings, always among the finest natural wines of  France.

Jeff (Jean-François) Coutelou is the third generation of his family at Mas Coutelou, at Puimisson, near Beziers in the Languedoc. "All of our vines have been cultivated organically since 1987, long before it was fashionable to do so. We can guarantee that all the soils of the domaine have seen no chemical fertilisers, nor any synthetic products for more than 28 years. The management of the vineyard is rigorous whilst fully respecting the plants and the soils. Ploughing, necessary for clay soils, is limited to ensure that the soil does not become compacted. In Spring, every vine stock is hoed manually. In the cellar, it is nature which decides... The choice of 'natural' winemaking is the end result of the work carried out in the vines. The choice is to limit external elements to allow the grapes to give the best of themselves. No adding of SO 2, no adding yeasts, no adding enzymes, ... in a phrase, leave nature alone whilst maintaining an eye for observation, a palate for tasting, a hand for helping and nurturing and a heart for sharing." The wines of Mas Coutelou have a marvelous freshness and purity, a tribute to the family's superb farming and Jeff's mastery of natural vinifications and bottling without sulfur. The two reds offered today are simply delicious - serve them cool with any casual dining, picnics and summer grilling...

North of Beziers in rugged hills of schist soils is the AOC of Faugeres, home to Clos Fantine, run by the Andrieu family of Corine, Carole and Olivier. The three siblings took over from their father in 1997 and by 2004 were working organically in the vineyard and vinifying without added sulfur. The vineyard is not plowed, only mowed, to protect the soil and provide biodiversity in the vines. The slate/schist soils impart acidity and freshness to the wines, which undergo long fermentations without extraction. The Cuvée Courtial is made from the best grapes of the vintage, and changes every year - in 2013 it's primarily Grenache - it's a profound and complex natural wine which should be decanted well in advance to reveal the purity of fruit and mineral expression from the Andrieu's beautiful vineyards.

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