10 Best Wine Travel Destinations 2014
A part of Languedoc-Roussillon, the world’s largest wine-producing region, Languedoc lies in the sunny south of France, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Mountains. It stretches west from the Roman city of Nîmes to the borders of the Aude départment. A vast expanse of multiple landscapes, grapes and weather patterns, this up-and-coming area stands out for its exciting, excellent value wines and unspoiled, vine-covered vistas. With its sandy, golden coastline and cool, green climes inland, visitors have the best of both worlds. —Louise Hurren
Where to Dine
Some of the most authentic restaurants here are hidden in the heart of wine country. Le Faitout (Berlou), l’Auberge du Presbytère (Vailhan) and Ô. Bontemps (Magalas) offer intimate dining paired with local wines, while the charming Relais Chantovent offers traditional regional cuisine in the must-see medieval village of Minerve. For something more unusual, dine al fresco in Domaine Gayda’s luxury barbecue straw huts (a short drive from Carcassonne). L’Auberge du Vieux Puits (Fontjoncouse) is a ritzy address worthy of a splurge.
Where to Stay
Lodging options abound. The upmarket Château les Carrasses in Capestang is a 19th-century wine estate transformed into luxury, self-catering vacation homes. Winemaker Gérard Bertrand’s L’Hospitalet is a leading wine tourism destination, boasting hotel rooms, a restaurant, tasting room and craft boutiques. In the hamlet of Lauret, Auberge du Cèdre offers character, shady gardens, authentic cuisine and a wine list featuring some of the Pic Saint Loup appellation’s best producers.
This is a region for fans of the great outdoors. Sea kayaking, wind surfing and river canoeing are just some options. Rocky Upper Languedoc has miles of walking and cycling trails. Ancient Roman sites like the Pont du Gard and the amphitheatre of Nîmes can be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace.
Book a self-catering holiday rental (a gîte) and live like the locals: buy produce at a local market (think olives, salted anchovies, goat cheese, some charcuterie and a handful of nectarines), add a bottle from a nearby domaine and enjoy.
When to Go
Spring for budding vines, fall for harvest and gentle sunshine. Avoid the crowds and soaring summer heat.
Local in the Know
Vianney Fabre, a second-generation winemaker at Château d’Anglès, says, “The annual gourmet wine walks held in early summer are the perfect way to discover some of Languedoc’s top AOPs and stunning landscapes. The Sentiers Gourmands event is held on the third weekend in May. It’s a gentle walk interspersed with delicious food and AOP La Clape wine pairings, which you can enjoy while admiring the breathtaking views of the coastline and limestone cliffs.”
Where to Taste
Few wineries have public tasting rooms with full-time staff, but calling ahead will open many doors—tastings are almost always free. In Lattes, the Mas de Saporta showcases over 400 Languedoc wines and the knowledgeable staff will happily answer questions and make recommendations. In Saint-Chinian, the Maison des Vins’s dispensing machines allow visitors to try 32 wines (red, white and rosé) from across the appellation for a charge. The shop stocks more than 300 wines. Florensac co-op’s Vinipolis visitor center offers an informative, multilingual experience (buy a bottle and enjoy it in the adjoining Bistrot d’Alex), while Faugères producer L’Abbaye Sylva Plana’s tasting room and restaurant are open year-round. In Montagnac, Côté Mas has a tasting room and restaurant showcasing wines from seven Domaines Paul Mas estates. Down near Fitou, the Mont Tauch co-op has an excellent visitor center, interactive displays and free tours.
Languedoc’s challenge is its diversity: red, white, rosé, still and sparkling, dry and fortified wines are all made here. Its AOPs—particularly Minervois, Corbières and Coteaux du Languedoc—are becoming well known. Terrasses du Larzac, Saint- Chinian and La Clape are now attracting attention. Varietal wines like Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Viognier and Chardonnay are commonly found under the Pays d’Oc label. Zippy Picpoul de Pinet (perfect with seafood), sparkling Blanquette de Limoux and aromatic Rolle-Roussanne-Marsanne blends are whites to watch. Fans of hearty reds should try the rich, spicy wines of Pic Saint Loup, Corbières and Fitou.