Explore France's 5 New Crus
There’s an unmistakable understanding of what the term “grand cru” means when it comes to French wine: It represents the top sites or producers throughout the country’s iconic wine-producing regions.
These locales produce the top wines of the appellation—the selections that best represent their homes. Once you’ve tried them, you’ll truly understand the meaning of terroir-driven wines. They are the crème de la crème, so to speak.
However, this pedigree often carries a prohibitive price tag.
With the restructured hierarchical classification of the region’s appellations d’origine protégée (AOP), the Languedoc now has five defined crus that have been recognized by France’s Institut National de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO).
While they’re not brand-new appellations, they’re still largely flying under the radar, which means there are unbelievable opportunities to obtain high quality, cellar-worthy wines at attractive prices.
Created in 2005, the Corbières-Boutenac appellation covers an area of 10 communes between the Nielle and Orbieu rivers. With an average altitude of 330 feet, the landscape is rugged, rocky, hilly and covered in garrigue, the quintessential natural vegetation of southern France.
Although rainfall is minimal, the appellation’s warm Mediterranean climate is tempered by southerly and marine winds from the Fontfroide mountain range. Summers are hot, dry and long, but that suits the region’s key varieties, Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre.
“The climate is dry and hot during the summer, but the reserve of water in the soil and subsoil are enough to maintain a good hydric level,” says Gérard Bertrand.
His father, Georges Bertrand, was a passionate leader in the region’s development and innovation during the 1980s. Gérard is the owner of his namesake winery as well as other chateaux around the Languedoc region.
Corbières-Boutenac wines can be produced from Carignan, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, with at least two varieties required. Carignan must account for 30–50%, while Syrah cannot be more than 30% of the blend.
The regulations here are rigorous—irrigation is forbidden, the vines must be at least nine years old before their fruit may be used, Carignan must be hand-harvested and yields are kept low (45 hL/hA).
“Carignan likes little fertile soils and dry areas,” says Pierre Bories, winemaker at Château Ollieux Romanis. “It can live until more than 100 years, unlike most of the other varieties of grapes. The Carignan contributes to the balance of the wines.”
The blends boast intense bouquets and palates, with assertive notes of spiced black plum, berry, purple flowers and leather. These are framed by fine yet firm tannins and medium acidity, finishing elegant and dry. They are wines of classic structure and finesse, with the promise of long-term aging potential at an attractive price.
“Corbières-Boutenac expresses culture, authenticity and know-how,” says Loïc Baccou, commercial director at Ollieux Romanis. “The dimension of the geographical area and the reduced number of wine growers make Cru Boutenac a wine of exception.”
One of the smallest AOPs of the Languedoc, Faugères might be easy to overlook. However, thanks to homogenous soil, elevation, environmental consciousness and a natural approach to winemaking, wines here offer remarkable balance, expression and consistency. They’re also good values.
Classified in 1982, the appellation is home to roughly 5,000 acres of vineyards nestled in the foothills of the Montagne Noire and Cévennes mountains. Like much of southern France, the region boasts a heavily forested landscape—holm oaks, chestnut trees, strawberry trees, rock roses and small shrubs and herbs—that influences its vineyards and wines.
However, the defining characteristic of the cru is its soil. Faugères is the only AOP of the Languedoc with a soil composed of natural schist. Yellow, ochre, orange, brown and blue schist soils were produced by the compression of Paleozoic-era marine deposit clays during the formation of the Massif Central.
“There are at least six different types of schist, distinguished by their color and structure, but all of them can transmit a distinct profile to a wine, giving wines from Faugères a distinct sense of place,” says Cédric Guy, co-owner and winemaker at Abbaye Sylva Plana.
The soil provides superb drainage, forcing the vines to send their roots deep in search of moisture. These vines are sturdy and resilient, able to withstand strong winds and periods of drought. The grapes are said to ripen at night, when the schist releases the heat absorbed during the day.
Red wines are made from any combination of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault, although there are some single-variety expressions. The wines almost always express an intense herbal character with a distinct minerality, all framed by a firm structure of full, lush fruit, moderate acidity and silky yet supporting tannins.
“The common characteristic of Faugères wines is a freshness that is quite unusual in Mediterranean wines,” says Guy. “Compared to other Languedoc wines, those of Faugères have an average acidity level, but it’s the mineral profile that gives this impression of freshness.”
Recognized as an AOP in 1999, Minervois La Livinière is a subregion of the larger Minervois appellation. Situated in an area called the Petit Causse, at the base of the Montagne Noire, the appellation spans six communes: Azillanet, Azille, Cesseras, Félines-Minervois, La Livinière and Siran.
The soil is diverse, with areas of sandstone, schist, limestone, marble-like rock and flint. The land is mainly scrubland, covered in hardy herbs like lavender, rosemary, thyme and laurel.
“After 2,000 years, vines are still flourishing in this unique site,” says Jacques Herviou, director of sales at Château Maris. “Livinière’s unique position flanking the hillside of the Montagne Noir is an ideal place for late-ripening Grenache and Carignan, with its hot days and cool nights, and the ‘terraces’ that drain so well are adapted to growing Syrah.”
Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache must form 60 percent of any La Livinière wine (with a minimum of 40 percent Syrah or Mourvèdre), while Carignan and Cinsault are limited to a maximum of 40 percent. Smaller additions of Terret, Piquepoul or Aspiran may be included as well.
“La Livinière is the best place for Syrah in the south of France,” says Gérard Bertrand. He attributes the variety’s success to the appellation’s climate, altitude and positioning, which benefits from fresh winds that come down the mountain at night and foster large diurnal temperature shifts.
Minervois La Livinière wines are bold and fruit forward, yet structured by fine-grained tannins and ample acidity, with threads of flinty minerality and bouquet garni.
“I think the distinctive taste of La Livinière is its voluptuousness—the velvety texture that is prevalent in all the wines of the appellation,” says Robert Eden, winemaker at Château Maris. “La Livinière has the potential to be recognized as one of the great terroirs of France.”
Château Maris 2011 Les Planels; $18 (Verity Wine Partners).
Gérard Bertrand 2012 Le Viala; $80 (Gérard Bertrand USA).
L’Ostal Cazes 2012 Grand Vin; $25 (Multiple US importers).
Saint-Chinian boasts two crus, both established in 2005. The two AOPs share similar terroirs and climates, yet exhibit different characteristics.
Saint-Chinian Berlou is located in the southern foothills of the Massif Central, with acres of steep, southern-facing vineyards. At 650 feet, the appellation is twice the altitude of the rest of Saint-Chinian.
The vines receive excellent sun exposure, while cool winds pass down from the mountains at night. The significant temperature variation leads to better balance between sugars and acids in the grapes and is a major factor in the terroir’s recognized quality.
Saint-Chinian Roquebrun is only four miles east of Berlou, on the northern edge of the Saint-Chinian appellation. Like Berlou, Roquebrun boasts a high altitude—475 feet—as well as steep, southern-facing vineyard slopes.
Unlike Berlou, Roquebrun is home to the Orb River at the base of the vineyard sites, which helps keep temperatures down during the summer.
“The wines of Saint-Chinian Roquebrun reflect and put forward their schist terroir and the gorgeous nature of the hilly backyard country of the mountains of the Languedoc,” says Alain Rogier, general director of enology at Cave de Roquebrun.
Saint-Chinian Berlou and Saint-Chinian Roquebrun wines are made from Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah, with at least three varieties required in the blend. The use of Grenache (at least 20 percent) and Syrah (at least 25 percent) is mandatory. Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah must comprise at least 70 percent of the blend, while Mourvèdre can account for no more than 30 percent.
Vinification is mostly by carbonic fermentation, but unlike in Beaujolais, where it lasts 2–3 days, it extends for 20–30 days here. Classic fermentation is also used.
The wines from both crus are silky and rich, with earth and sweet spice notes that accompany ripe black cherry and berry fruits. Traditional and rustic, yet with a modern angle and approachable texture, these are wines that are enjoyable now but will mature gracefully, developing attractive notes of leather, forest and truffle amid dried fruits and berries.
Cave de Roquebrun 2013 Baron d’Aupenac (Saint-Chinian Roquebrun); $60 (Accolade Brands).
Cave de Roquebrun 2013 Roches Noires (Saint-Chinian Roquebrun); $22 (American Northwest Distributors).
Domaine Rimbert 2013 Saint-Chinian Berlou; $20 (Oz Wine Company).
- 3Minervois La Livinière
- 4Saint-Chinian Berlou & Saint-Chinian Roquebrun