Spotlight on Languedoc-Roussillon: Domaine Canet-Valette Saint-Chinian “Maghani” 2004

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Today’s wine is an altogether different creature than the Minervois I looked at a few days ago. It is also a great showcase for different trends in the modern leaders of Languedoc-Roussillon. On the one hand there are those contemporary wine makers who go for elegance, finesse and a more transparent sense of terroir. On the other hand, there are those who push for power, opulence and concentration. Two things I find common between both groups in the region are cleanliness and expressivity.

Monastic Origins

Saint-Chinian began as the labour of a monk named Anian and his bretheren who first saw the potential for agriculture in the region. Amongst other things, Anian helped to plant the first vines in the 9th century – meaning that St. Chinian is one of the older planted regions in the south of France. Anian was eventually canonized into a saint. Time and linguistic changes transformed Saint Anian (pronounced Sainch Anian in old French) into Saint Chinian.

Saint-Chinian’s Terroir

The terroirs of Saint-Chinian divide into two main categories: (1) schist and (2) chalk subsoils left by a prehistoric receding sea. Stylistically, this has tended to produce both a rounder and more elegance style and a harder, intensely fruity style. Wild orange trees and strawberry trees cover the region. The region is north of Minervois and just south of Faugeres.

Full Throttle Wine with Balance

Marc Valette, winemaker for Domaine Canet-Valette is a full-throttle wine maker. He explicitly goes for the highest alcohol possible in his wines, which fortunately for us, is only around 14-15%. While high, this is nowhere near as high as the most extreme North American examples.

This is a full-throttle wine, make no mistake. However, it retains an eminent drinkability and focus that eludes most North American attempts at this style of wine. When you drink it you will find leather, herbs, garrigue, meat, licorice and plum on the nose, which reminded me somewhat of the southern Rhone (this too is a blend of Grenache and Syrah), but with more elegance. Those same flavours persist on the palate, which is heavily tannic but also both supple and bold, with a good core of acidity – and, therefore, balance. A masterful use of barrel aging – and a very good price for the level this wine is at. This is a wine that will benefit from age but drinks well now with the right food.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$50 at Marquis

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