When you think of Bordeaux you think of the fine wines of the Médoc or Saint-Émilion, those glamorous and often expensive tryst of Cabernet and Merlot. With Burgundy it’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that instantly spring to mind along with its renowned terroir often crawling with geologists trying to figure out what makes these mono cepage wines taste so different to each other. The Loire and the Alsace bring thoughts of top notch white wines and the Côtes du Rhône always summons up thoughts of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. What happens when you think of Languedoc-Roussillon? For many people the thought that enters their head is good value, quantity rather than quality but no particular wine comes to the surface. For me that’s the reason why this area struggles to be recognised and understood by the consumer. There is no single wine that stands out. It’s an area of diversity and so are the wines. You can buy just about every style of wine from here – from sparkling fizz to full bodied reds to lusciously sweet to light and refreshing whites, rosé of all styles and full bodied whites of immense complexity. The wines are made from grape varieties just as diverse and many of which the average person will not have heard of such as Maccabeo, Boubelenc and Terret. There are 3 grape varieties that I think Languedoc-Roussillon excels at – Carignan and Grenache. These originally Spanish grape varieties are very at home here and produce some of the most exciting wines in France. They both offer 3 colours of grape – Noir, blanc and gris which can produce stunning single varietal wines and are equally superb in a blend. Over the coming months I hope to introduce you to wines made from these grapes starting with my absolute favourite producer Clos du Gravillas.
John and Nicole Bajonowski have been making wine for around 14 years from their ‘petit domaine’ of less than 8 hectares in the village of Saint-Jean-du-Minervois. I first met them 5 years ago when I began running vineyard tours in the region and was looking for interesting places to include. They farm organically and Nicole uses some bio-dynamic principles too. They truly believe that good wine is made in the vineyard so a great deal of their time is spent tending the vines to ensure they bring in healthy ripe grapes when the time comes. It was at this vineyard that I had my first encounter with Carignan, Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris.The first wine they made was a white made from Grenache blanc, gris and Maccabeo.John and Nicole named it L’Inattendu which means the unexpected and it lives up to its name superbly well. It has a rich, complex earthy minerality with deeply satisfying flavours of fennel, nectarines and apples and a hint of creaminess. It has fabulous structure and its freshness belies the hot Languedoc region it comes from. This is achieved by growing the vines at altitude (300 m) on limestone soils. It’s the perfect accompaniment for the strong flavours of the Languedoc foods where a delicate aromatic wine could possibly be knocked sideways. When they bought their vineyard it had included some old Carignan vines which celebrated their 100thbirthday this year. John and Nicole were the first people to make wine from these grapes alone as the previous owner had sent them to the co-operative. They were taken aback when they tasted their first 100% Carignan which they dubbed Lo Vièlh which means the old one in Occitan. In those days it was commonly agreed that Carignan was a good blending grape but used on its own it would produce a wine that was rustic and acidic. Lo Vièlh surprised everyone with its wonderful elegance and flavours of black cherries with spices and herbs and a note of tobacco with a touch of minerality and a smooth silky texture. The flavours linger long and are a fabulous match for lamb or duck.
L’Inattendu and Lo Vièlh cost £19.50 per bottle and are available from Underwoods Wine Merchants in Warwick who will despatch them to you anywhere in the UK. Follow this link for stockists in other parts of the world.
You can visit this vineyard with me next year by booking the Minervois Tour.