The vast expanse of Languedoc-Roussillon and its swathes of vineyards making a myriad of different wines can be daunting to get to grips with.
At its simplest, IGP Pays d’Oc is the catch all appellation for wines made anywhere across the region, often with varietal labelling. And while I’m pleased Pays d’Oc exists, there are many worthwhile wines to be found by digging deeper into Languedoc and Roussillon.
But there are so many names to remember! Here are just a few wine appellations off the top of my head: Fitou, Minervois, Pic St Loup, Faugères, Saint Chinian, Picpoul de Pinet – there are many, many more. Oh, and you might also come across AOC Languedoc; and IGP Côtes Catalanes functions like IGP Pays d’Oc for Roussillon. In short, the picture is, as always, complicated.
To help decode some of the mystique, here’s a quick guide to one of the appellations responsible for some of the most exciting and characterful wines from the region. It also helps that the name is simple for Anglophones to get their tongues round: La Clape.
La Clape is a one-time island, which now forms a conspicuous bump of limestone on the coastal plain between the city of Narbonne and the Mediterreanean. The environment is harsh – the salt-laden wind, poor rocky soils and baking sun make it fit really for only for vines and olives.
Wines from here seem to have a unique character, which must be influenced by their singular growing environment. Flavours are ripe, but with a grip and freshness that might surprise you, given their southerly origins.
Château Rouquette Cuvée Arpège 2015 - £10.95 from the Wine Society
All white wines from La Clape must include some Bourboulenc – a variety native to the Rhône Valley. It can be rather characterless, but in La Clape it assumes a richness of flavour, while retaining all-important freshness, alongside “grip” – a certain texture that red wines usually have, but white wines tend not to. Here it is blended with Rhône bedfellow Roussanne, and is unoaked, making for vibrant, fresh fruit flavours that refresh and cleanse the palate.
Château d’Anglès Grand Vin Blanc 2012 - £19.80 from Hedonism Wines
Eric Fabre, ex of Château Lafite Rothschild, knows a thing or two about crafting fine wines. His Classique blanc is in the same mould at Ch Rouquette above, but this Grand Vin, a blend of Bourboulenc, Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne has been fermented and aged in oak, giving a wine of power and complexity. You can also find Château d’Anglès Grand Vin Rouge 2010 at online merchant Vin Cognito for £14.50.
Château Rouquette 2014 - £10.95 from the Wine Society
The red incarnation of Ch Rouquette combines old vine Carignan with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre – hardly an unusual recipe in this part of the world; but the singularity of La Clape gives the wine a saline tang and wonderful texture.
Upcoming wine events in Surrey
I'm involved in a few wine events between now and the end of the year. It would be great to see some readers at one or both.
6 December, 8pm – Wine Discovery evening at Cellar Magneval, Woking – a relaxed evening of wine tasting and learning at Woking’s cool and quirky wine bar, focusing on wines for Christmas. See: http://www.cellarmagneval.com/woking-events
15 December, 8pm – The fine wines of Burgundy at Cellar Wines, Ripley – do the ultimate Christmas Day wines come from Burgundy? More details and booking: https://www.cellarwines.co.uk/events/the-fine-wines-of-burgundy/