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Wine: On the Grapevine; In the last of a three part series on the wines of the Languedoc, Clive Platman looks at how the region has had to improve.

Byline: Clive Platman

There has been an enormous surge of interest in wine in the UK over the last 20 years yet, yet paradoxically over the same period, wine consumption in France has fallen.

With improvements in living standards, though, the French are demanding higher quality wine. The producers in the Languedoc, the traditional suppliers of plonk, have therefore had to adapt: they have had to make better wine and they have had to seek out new markets.

While the new British wine consumer is an obvious target, the French have been losing ground to their New World rivals. The boom in Australian wine sales has partly been led by easy-to-understand wine labels, based on a producer brand name and a grape variety. Not for them an unpronounceable chateau from an obscure AOC.

The second hurdle is an inherent cultural difference. The New World style wine is often designed to be drunk alone, with the emphasis on fruit and easy drinking styles. To the French, wine is an integral part of a meal and to accompany food, the wine may require the firm tannins and robust flavours needed to overcome, say, strongly tasting fatty meats. This type of wine may be difficult to drink by itself, but will blossom when put with food.

It is with this background in mind that I continue my journey through the AOC wines of the Languedoc.

The Corbieres is a huge limestone plateau lying south-west of Narbonne and south-east of Carcassonne. A higher proportion of Carignan grapes tend to be used in the blend, which can make the wines a little robust and rustic.

Eliane's Gruissan 2000 is a good example, with juicy cherry and raspberry jam, spice, pepper and liquorice on the finish. Available at Sainsbury for pounds 4.99, this rated 16+.

From the Val d'Orbieu stable, I sampled Chateau de Ribaute Cuvee Francois le Noir 1999, available at Marks and Spencer at pounds 7.99. Oak ageing has added silk, meat and chocolate to the red fruit and spicy flavours (16).

Unfortunately, there is limited availability at Safeway of Chateau de Villenouvette Cuvee Marcel Barsalou 1999 (pounds 7.99). This wine has all you could ask for, with soft savoury plummy fruit, seasoned with pepper, thyme and spice, and finishing on rich, dark chocolate. Astonishingly good, I gave this 18.

Fortunately, there does not appear to be a supply problem with the Domaine des Courtilles 1999, available at Waitrose for pounds 7.99. Similar, but even better than the above, this had a balance, suppleness and silkiness that just nosed it ahead to score 18+.

To the north-east of Corbieres, lies St Chinian, upgraded to AOC status in 1982. Chateau Cazal-Viel Cuvee des Fees 1999 is available from Waitrose at pounds 6.99, and was my very first recommendation in this weekly column. This had rich, smoky, meaty blackberry fruit, with a silky mouthfeel and chocolate and spice on the finish. Smooth and well-integrated, this is a really classy food accompaniment (17+).

The Coteaux du Languedoc consists of a collection of communes stretched out between Narbonne and Nomes. A good example is Chateau de Flaugergues La Mejanelle 1999 (Majestic pounds 6.99). It tasted of plums laced with spice and herbs, leading to a rich bitter-chocolate finish. Full and complex, yet soft and silky, this rated 17+.

To the north of Montpellier, and within the Coteaux du Languedoc region is Pic St Loup, a high altitude location with cooler-climate vineyards. The wines are generally lighter and finer, and are worth hunting down. The Ermitage du Pic St Loup 2000 (Waitrose pounds 5.49) has full flavoured menthol and blackberry fruit, with rich spice. It has a lovely rich mouthfeel and a silky chocolate and spice finish (17).

The Costieres de Nomes AOC was previously known as the VDQS Costieres du Gard, and is located at the most easterly point of the Languedoc region. A source of good-value reds, I was impressed with two from Majestic.

Chateau Guiot 2001 is a delicious juicy, jammy cherry and plum fruited red, shot through with pepper and spice, and ending on notes of vanilla. Terrific value at pounds 4.99, this is reduced by pounds 1 for two bottles (16+).

Also recommended is Mas de Bressade 2000 (pounds 6.99) which is a terrificly warm and full-bodied red. There was fleshy, juicy plums and hedgerow fruit, accompanied by soft tannins and lingering chocolate and spice on the finish (17+).

With a little understanding, it can be seen that there are many impressive wines coming out of the Languedoc region, at some very reasonable prices. They are recommended with food, particularly barbecues, but can cope incredibly well with a range of full-flavoured cuisine. Search them out for yourself.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 4, 2002
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