Many wines from the South of France are inexpensive. And, while your local retailer likely stocks plenty of $10-and-under bottlings of IGP Pays d’Oc wines, that’s not all the region has to offer. Languedoc-Roussillon, the largest winemaking area in France, also produces a range of wines from unique, traditional and, in some cases, historic appellations d’origines protégées (AOPs).
Although these wines are typically priced more than $10, they often present an outstanding quality-to-price ratio, meaning you actually get more than you’d expect for the cost. Such high-quality, value-minded selections are always appreciated, but they’re especially useful during the holidays, both for last-minute gifts or entertaining.
With that in mind, these wines do exceed expectations—delicious and affordable, yet true to their terroir. Whether red, white, sparkling or fortified, there’s something here to excite even the most jaded palates.
Powerful Red Wine
Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres
Les Aspres (“arid” in Catalan) is a noted cru in the Côtes du Roussillon—less than 25 miles from the Spanish border. Oak trees and garrigue (wild herbs and shrubs) frame the schist-based soils and sun-soaked terrain, which lends a distinct spice and herbal character to the bold and richly weighted wines.
Gérard Bertrand’s ever-expanding range of Languedoc-Roussillon wines comes from numerous estates and vineyard sites. The brand’s Grand Terroir line delivers high quality, but the Roussillon bottlings strike a chord with savvy wine shoppers.
The 2014 Les Aspres is dense and generous. Notes of sweet smoke, violet, lavender and laurel complement blackberry, cassis and cherry. It’s concentrated and robustly fruited, with a smooth texture and round mouthfeel that’s framed by spicy tones and velvety tannins that linger through the finish.
Gérard Bertrand 2014 Grand Terroir Les Aspres Syrah-Mourvèdre-Grenache (Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres); $20, 91 points. Gérard Bertrand USA. Editors’ Choice.
Traditional Red Wine
With a history of viticulture that dates to the ninth century, St.-Chinian is home to some of Languedoc’s most traditional red wines. The soils vary from schist and sandstone in the north to a mixture of clay and limestone in the south. Stretches of garrigue surround many of the vineyards, and many winemakers say this is expressed in their wines. Altitudes and aspects within the appellation also vary, which creates microclimates and affects wind speed and direction, all of which can impact the wines’ sensory characteristics.
The resulting wines offer forward notes of savory herbs, wild berries, earthy spice and flinty minerality. Medium-bodied and supple, they boast ample acidity and fine yet supportive tannins that lend a satiny texture.
Mas Champart, owned by winemaker Isabelle Champart and her viticulturist husband, Mathieu, is one of the region’s top wineries. The couple live in an old stone farmhouse (mas) amid their old vines. Eighty percent of the vineyards are now maintained with organic practices, and they harvest everything by hand and use natural yeasts during fermentation.
A blend of 74% Syrah, 10% Carignan, 6% Grenache, 6% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault, the winery’s Causse du Bousquet is an elegant and harmonious wine. It showcases a masterful balance between lush, ripe black berry fruits and earthy, toasty spice. With its crushed-velvet texture, bold fruit flavors and lingering spice accents, the wine is easy to appreciate and enjoy now, yet structured enough to age well for another 6–10 years.
Mas Champart 2013 Causse du Bousquet (St.-Chinian); $25, 91 points. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. Editors’ Choice.
Limoux is not only the westernmost appellation in the Languedoc, but also its highest and coolest, making it well suited to sparkling wine. Many historians believe that the first sparkling wine was produced there in 1531—predating Champagne production—at the abbey in St.-Hilaire.
The sparkling appellations include Blanquette de Limoux, which is made using méthode Champenoise from a minimum of 90% Mauzac, a traditional local variety. Another, Crémant de Limoux, allows for higher percentages of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, as well as the addition of Pinot Noir. Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale, composed of 100% Mauzac, employs natural fermentation, has a cloudy appearance (it retains its lees even after secondary fermentation) and is bottled during the descending moon at the end of March.
Yes, Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale is some special fizz—traditional and distinctive. Sadly, not many bottlings are exported to the U.S.
Fortunately, powerhouse producer Jean-Claude Mas makes sure that his Côte Mas Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale makes its way stateside.
A fourth-generation vintner, Mas took the helm at Domaines Paul Mas in 2000. He sought to improve the visibility of Languedoc wines through an expansive portfolio of high-quality, authentic yet attainable selections. At only 7.5% abv, it’s light and easy to drink. It exhibits vibrant notes of fresh peach, honeysuckle, baked apple and sweet, ripe pear, all balanced by ample acidity and brisk carbonation.
Domaines Paul Mas NV Côté Mas Méthode Ancestrale (Blanquette de Limoux); $18, 90 points. Esprit du Vin. Editors’ Choice.
Unoaked White Wine
Previously a climat of the larger Coteaux du Languedoc appellation, La Clape was approved as an AOP in 2015. While predominately known for its luscious red wines, which account for the majority of local production, the white wines are perhaps even more special. It’s the only appellation based on the Bourboulenc grape.
“It brings freshness and structure and makes the reputation of La Clape for white wines,” says Eric Fabre, the winemaker for Château d’Anglès.
Fabre, previously the technical director at first-growth Château Lafite Rothschild, moved from Bordeaux to La Clape in 2002. At the time, he sought to fulfill a lifelong dream by purchasing a vineyard on the Mediterranean. While searching for a high-quality terroir in the South of France, he fell in love with the d’Anglès estate. He sees tremendous potential in the soil, climate and grape varieties of La Clape.
Fabre’s wines speak to his efforts to highlight the appellation’s terroir, but the Classique white offers elegance and a true sense of place for a remarkably approachable price tag. A blend of 50% Bourboulenc, 30% Grenache, 10% Roussanne and 10% Marsanne, it boasts an enticing bouquet of field flowers, fresh fennel bulb, white peach and citrus zest.
Unmistakable marine influences of mineral and saline notes shine throughout and become more pronounced with aging. The mouthfeel is smooth and rich, and while this is delightful now, it will mature and develop well through 2022.
Château d’Anglès 2015 Classique Bourboulenc-Grenache-Roussanne (La Clape); $18, 90 points. Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.
Oaked White Wine
Limoux is best known for its sparkling wines, but the AOP’s still whites shouldn’t be overlooked. The region’s clay and calcareous soil benefits from strong Atlantic and Mediterranean winds and cooler climates than other areas of the Languedoc. It allows for even ripening of the grapes while maintaining ample natural acidity.
When you add in the stipulation that all white wines must be fermented and aged in oak, the result is some of the finest dry white wines in the South of France.
Château Rives-Blanques produces both sparkling and still wines from Limoux. While they’re all stellar, the Odyssée Chardonnay is a world-class wine available at a fraction of the cost of other excellent French examples. It boasts soft wood accents to the ripe yellow apple, pear and spiced orange tones, with zippy acidity and a mineral streak that lend freshness to the medium-weight palate. It’s a layered, complex wine that will evolve well through 2022.
Château Rives-Blanques 2015 Odyssée (Limoux); $18, 90 points. Multiple U.S. importers. Editors’ Choice.
Château de Lancyre has a rich winemaking history. The estate was built on the ruins of a 12th-century fort, and its winemaking records date back to 1550. Situated within the Pic Saint-Loup AOP, once a subregion of the larger Languedoc AOP, the winery’s vineyards are just 15 miles from the Mediterranean, at almost 2,000 feet above sea level.
Lancyre’s wines are ripe yet fresh, and the rosé exemplifies that balance. A blend of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache and 10% Cinsault, it’s bold and lively. Attractive aromas of red currant, raspberry and strawberry hull are graced by accents of lavender and rosemary. Flavors of red berry skin and peach pit unfold on the medium-weight palate, framed by soft tannins and a delicate spice note that lingers on the close.
Château de Lancyre 2015 Le Rosé (Pic Saint-Loup); $18, 90 points. Hand Picked Selections.
Rivesaltes is the largest appellation for vins doux naturels, or naturally sweet wines. These cellar-worthy beauties are fortified with a neutral grape spirit to stop the yeast before fermentation is complete and all sugars have been converted into alcohol.
There are four types of Rivesaltes—ambré, grenat, tuilé and rosé. Most are aged oxidatively for lengths that vary according to their classifications. Ambrés tend to show the most accessible, seductive balancing act. Their rich, candied stone fruits and citrus peels dance with toasted nuts and sweet spice, all framed by pleasant warmth and lifting acidity.
Located in Rivesaltes, which averages 325 days of sunshine per year, Domaine Cazes is one of the most established producers in Roussillon. Founded in 1895, it’s a family company with a long winemaking history and an impressive library of Rivesaltes bottlings. The winery became certified biodynamic in 1997, and Cazes is currently the largest organic and biodynamic estate in France.
The 1999 Ambré is in its infancy now, but it’s hard to pass up. Attractive notes of dried peach, golden raisin, orange marmalade and toasted almond are kept in check by mature oxidative and wood tones as well as a bright seam of rancio. It’s delicious and well balanced, though more time in the cellar will allow it to develop additional layers of complexity.
Domaine Cazes 1999 Ambré Vin Doux Naturel Biodynamie (Rivesaltes); $35, 90 points. Cannon Wines Limited/AdVini USA.
Other Top Value Producers
Located within Minervois, Château Cabezac produces a wide array of bottlings from the appellation, including whites, rosés and red wines. They’re all tasty and priced to please.
Thanks to winemaker Robert Eden, this Minervois La Livinière estate is certified biodynamic and organic by both Demeter and Biodyvin. It produces some of the most pristine and expressive red wines of the appellation, and at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Winemaker Laurent Miquel has built a brand based on consistency and quality. The lineup includes a broad range of bottlings at various price points, as well as estate wines from Château Cazal Viel in St.-Chinian and Château Les Auzines in Corbières.