Spotlight on Languedoc-Roussillon: Clos Des Fees Vieilles Vignes Cotes du Rousillon Village 2003 and 2004
The Languedoc-Roussillon has been getting attention as a good value region for a few years now. Despite this attention, the wines remain relatively unknown and, accordingly, often retain very good value. This spotlight will take a look at what I think are some of the best producers in the region and will examine the past, present and future of wines in this southernmost of France’s wine growing locales.
From Co-ops to Independent Producers
The history of Languedoc-Rousillon has been tumultuous. Ups and downs of under and over production – collapsed wine prices – strikes and even riots (with military sent in) – in classically French manner some of the soldiers mutineed to join the French Wine growers – their superior refused to discipline them. That’s wine in France I suppose. This solidarity helped lead to the development of cooperatives in Languedoc, which acted as beacons for mutual support in the industry.
Over time the wine industry in Langedoc-Roussillon has moved from cooperatives to farmer-producers. The increasing technical education and expertise of the younger wine makers and junior members of wine-making families has spurred a drive towards quality control and a desire to find and express terroir.
While some good cooperatives do exist, in this spotlight I will be concentrating on the independent grower-winemakers who are shaking things up in the region and pushing for ever greater quality.
Internationalism in Roussillon
Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest vineyard region in all of France. It has, accordingly, become known as France’s wine lake, with huge amounts of wine produced there going unsold. Quality used to be low, but is now improving and many producers are looking to augment the traditional grape varieties with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. These producers are challenging the AOC system, which restricts which grapes may be grown in a given region.
Certainly the climate in Languedoc-Roussillon is suited to growing most of the international varities reasonably well. But I question why this is necessary. Certainly the appeal to larger markets is appealing to those making wine in France’s “wine lake”, but in my mind the best road towards market penetration is to produce something both high quality and unique, something nowhere else can produce. At least for the smaller producers, terroir is the vehicle for branding and marketing that will ultimately prove more sustainable than any attempt to obliterate it and grow international varieties.
The wines in this profile tend to use the ‘traditional’ grapes of the region (which ironically are mostly old imports from Spain and the Rhone): Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault for reds and Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Chenin, Colombard and Semillon for whites.
That said, sometimes the AOC designations can get in the way of including some of the more interesting indigenous grapes in the region and so some very cool wines can be found under the Vins de pays qualification rather than just the AOCs.
The Terroir of Cotes du Roussillon Villages
The reputation of Mediterranean heat holds true in Roussillon, which is the hottest, and southernmost, region of Languedoc-Roussillon. Windy and parched, Roussillon tends to produce grapes high in sugar and deep in colour, and one might expect all the wines of the region to be blockbuster in style. The best, producers, however have managed to produce a surprisingly wide variety of styles, showing the talent present in Roussillon today.
The traditional style of wine made here was sweet – and, these wines still comprise almost 1/3 of the region’s production. Recently, however, the AOC dry wines have been grabbing notice around the world, despite their mere 22% share of sales in Roussillon. Only 7% of that is white, the majority (80%) being dry red wine.
Clos des Fees is a newcomer in Roussillon, founded by Herve Bizeul, a former sommelier, restaurateur and journalist. Most of the vines here are 60+ years old, are planted on chalk soils and at an altitude of 2150 feet.
This winery is a true “garage” operation, without industrial processes or a fancy winery. Bizeul makes the wine in a small unassuming building and relies instead on hand picking and careful selection.
The Vieilles Vignes is made from the oldest vines and is aged in oak for 18 months, where it also sees malolactic fermention.
The 2003 Vieilles Vignes Rouge presented licorice, roots, black cherry and spices on the nose. The palate repeats the aromatics and is quite balanced for such a hot vintage. The tannins are supple – the wine of medium length and very well made. I must say that I do not necessarily detect a unique sense of terroir in this wine, which seems to go more for the prestige quality rather than simple sense of place.
I would score it Very Good+.
$45 at Marquis
The 2004 had very similar aromatics – licorice, dark cherry, plum, fig and some balsamic. It is, overall, a more balanced wine though it retains the same level of richness and extract. It does have a savory quality an d a bed of dried herbs on which lay the ripe black cherry, plum and fig fruits.
This is a great wine for those who love size and power but hate too much sweetness, lack of balance or jammy fruit.
$45 at Marquis