The Languedoc Uncorked: A Visit to Three Wineries

As a wine region, the Languedoc in the South of France has gone through its ups and downs; in its beginnings, there were dizzying heights, being known as one of the best wine regions in the world for centuries. Come the latter half of the nineteenth century, and there were very cavernous lows, when, because of phylloxera and also the demand for cheap wine to satisfy a growing workforce, the region’s high-quality vines were lost, and its reputation plummeted.

It’s taken decades for this black mark to be shaken off, even years after winemakers made the commitment to produce quality over quantity. Old school wine buffs who remember the dire situation in the seventies and eighties can still scoff at the mention of the word ‘Languedoc,’ but it is they who are in the Dark Ages now. The Languedoc has secured itself one of the best regions in the world for a tremendously diverse selection of quality wines at an exceptional value for money.

One of the fortunate things about living in the UK is that a trip to France for the weekend is relatively inexpensive and, regarding organisation, easy peasy. There are B&Bs to rent cheaply and if you’re really lucky, you might have a friend or two who lives there who can put you up. Great wine is just a budget airfare awayn and in the Languedoc isn’t hard to find - there are vines everywhere and at least someone in every village making their own wine. Within a twenty minute drive from my friend’s house, we reach three of the larger wineries in the area: Saint-Saturnin; The Vignoble des 2 Terres and Vignerons & Passions.


The Saint-Saturnin cellar opened its doors 60 years ago and was one of the first founded at the origins of the Languedoc appellation. The singular terroir of Saint-Saturnin stretches around four villages: Arboras; Jonquiéres; Saint-Guiraud and Saint-Saturnian-de-Lucian. The soils are made up of limestone and clay, and the vines grow on hillsides which are drenched in sunshine in the day and cooled at night with the wind that comes down from the Larzac plateau. The wines of Saint-Saturnin have always been bottled in their terroir of production to guarantee their quality.

An exceptional wealth of grape varieties are grown here. Black grape varieties include Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault and Merlot, and white varieties include Chardonnay, Chenin, Clairette, Sauvignon, Viognier, Marsanne, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Bourboulenc.

My main interest here is in the red wines, but Saint-Saturnin produces a small range of decent whites too, typically made with a base blend of Grenache and Marsanne. I try three of their AOPs and all of them are pleasant with soft, floral aromas. The Lucian and L’Exception are good, straightforward wines that would pair perfectly with simple seafood dishes, but noticeably more complex is the Seigneur des Deux Vierges, which has layers of spice and citrus fruits in addition to the blossom. Refined and elegant, it has a lingering and toasty finish.

There are nine rosé wines in the Saint-Saturnin collection - I hear they are very popular with the locals and I see why: drinking rosé in the sunshine is the epitome of the South of France to me. Unpaired, uncomplicated; refreshing and elegant. The pale Provence style dominates the list and there is one which is the palest I’ve seen - Puech Arnet IGP Mont Baudile, where I think the skins were just waved in its general direction. We tasted one of their bestsellers, Lucian. It’s a deeper pink than is usually acceptable on the sunny hotel terraces in London, but it has the complexity to go with it and is brimming with red fruit aromas. The palate is fresh and generous, with a persistent, creamy finish.

After three whites and one rosé, we taste all fifteen reds - to the immense patience of our host. They range from the simple style of La Calade IGP Pays d’Oc, a decent table wine which is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan and Merlot, through to some fantastic wines which are very complex.

We taste the Vin d’Une Nuit AOP Languedoc Saint Saturnin - a significant wine in the winery’s history, being the first released from their cellar. Because of this accolade, it is somewhat of a flagship wine, which proudly bears their name and branding, and is available in six types of bottles and boxes of varying sizes. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault, it’s garnet in colour and on the nose it’s bursting with ripe red fruit. Full-bodied and well-balanced, Vin d’Une Nuit is definitely a refined good value wine with smooth, silky tannins. It’s the kind of wine that would satisfy most palates at a party, and so in that case, why wouldn’t you go for a couple of boxes?

The Les Hauts d’Arboras has a little more elegance about it and the Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre blend lends it a certain minerality and savouriness. With some time in oak, it has traces of spice and vanilla. However, it’s when we get to the fourth and fifth wines of the tasting, the palate really starts to sing. Both L’Exception and La Sélection des Vignerons are 40/50/10 percent blends of Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre, which is never a bad idea and the result is very similar: berry fruits, a little spice, and soft, velvety tannins.

All of the wines from here on in are GSM blends, some more superior than others, but all are premium wines that have structure, balance and a boldness that took me a little by surprise (in a good way). Key wines for me were: Sentier des Poètes (Grenache 30%, Syrah 60% and Mourvèdre 10%), a deeply-coloured, blackcurrant-scented, full-bodied wine that ends with a wave of liquorice; Les Hauts d’Arboras AOP Terrasses du Larzac (Grenache 50%, Syrah 30% and Mourvèdre 20%), a powerful yet elegant wine offering aromas of concentrated fruit, herbs and mocha spice, silky on the palate with a long, spicy finish; and Seigneur des Deux Vierges (Grenache 40%, Syrah 50% and Mourvèdre 10%), one of the most complex wines in the collection, which offers a pronounced nose of black fruit, leather, coffee, dark chocolate and spices, all smoothly filling every corner of the mouth and staying put on the palate for a long time afterwards. An amazing example of what the Languedoc can produce.

The Vignoble des 2 Terres

This winery, located in the village of Saint-Félix de Lodez, has operated as a cooperative since 1942 after the merging of the Cave de Saint Jean de la Blaquière with the Cave de Saint Félix de Lodez. The winemakers realised that the only way to develop was to come together, which was remarkably forward-thinking at the time, and now the cooperative comprises of 150 growers, cultivating a total of 700 ha of vines and producing 40,000 hl of wine. The vineyards are planted on two very different terroirs (hence the name) - one is made up of clay and limestone, set in high terraces, and the other is red ‘ruffe’ rock, with soil rich in clay sediments and iron oxides. Here, you’ll find Syrah, Merlot, Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Rolle, Viognier, Chardonnay and Chenin - grape varieties that grow in exceptional climatic conditions and are finely blended to produce wines that go beyond the expectations of what would be typical for the region. The wines here have won many prestigious awards.

Visitors are welcomed into a shop set-up, rather than a tasting room, but customers can try before they buy. There’s also a filling-up station of table wine, where visitors can take their own receptacle and fill it with however much they like and pay for the amount they take.

As we are after a few bottles of decent red, we try several of the wines that they are well-known for: Saint Jacques; Fleur de Laurze; Les Hauts des Privats; Cuvée Jacques Arnal and Saint Félis. We start with Saint Jacques, an excellent value AOP Languedoc which bears a Gold Medal Vinalies 2017. It’s made from a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, and Cinsault, which are grown on clay and limestone soils, and the result is a deep ruby wine that has a spicy and herbaceous nose of thyme and pepper, with ripe, almost baked, black fruits. With super-smooth tannins, this wine goes further than a simple wine could and is an absolute steal at €4.50 a bottle. See what I mean about value?

The next four wines we taste are from Terraces du Larzac, a premium dénomination that is heralded for its exceptional, diverse terroirs, which range from sandy clay soils with pebbles, to multi-coloured schist terraces, to ancient terraces of rolled pebbles, to red ruffles in horizontal layers and high marl-limestone terraces dominated by the cliffs of Larzac, which all make for stunning landscape views. Only the best grapes are used, and these are a selection of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre, with Syrah being the dominant variety in these wines.

Fleur de Laurze is a youthful, very easy-drinking, yet elegant wine that is bursting with cherries and has an edge of cinnamon spice. That sweet spice is apparent in all of the wines, but as we rise in complexity levels, richer notes of dark chocolate, mocha and liquorice appear, particularly in the Les Hauts des Privats and the Felis. The distinguishing quality of all of these wines is the wonderful silkiness of the tannins. Very sophisticated indeed.

Vignerons & Passions

Vignerons & Passions is a magnificent shop and tasting rooms located in Saint Félix de Lodez, that operates with one principal aim: to share the Languedoc. The ethos behind Vigerons & Passions is focused around the winemakers, ensuring they are supported and that their wines are promoted effectively. The shop itself was created with the notion of reflecting the quality of the Languedoc in mind, and so it is an impressive space that holds a huge selection of Languedoc wine, from the easy-drinking ‘convivial’ styles, to some very high-end cuvée that will satisfy the most serious of connoisseurs.

The friendly staff here also welcome visitors to try the wines they are interested in, and we are searching for a Carignan. We try the Secret de Lunès Carignan Vieilles Vignes 2016, which, when poured is a bright ruby red, glinting in the light. Aromas of red cherries fill the nose and there is a whiff of black pepper, perhaps liquorice, and a hint of violets. Very fruity, it’s pleasantly easy-drinking, due to its lovely soft, round tannins.

Next on the list is a Corbières and I like the look of Les Hauts de Castelmaure 2016 Corbières Pays d’Oc IGP. A blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, it is a deep ruby and has a pronounced nose of black fruits, cassis and ‘garrigue’, the bushy fragrant plants that grow wild in the limestone hills of the Med (think herbs de Provence). It’s really delicious - full-bodied with smooth, ripe tannins. This is the ideal, affordable wine for drinking on its own or by the gallon paired with a French feast of red meats and cheeses.

Vignerons & Passions is a great place to come to get an overall view of the Languedoc and the breadth of styles here - of which there are many! Which is really what the Languedoc is all about - range. A range of landscapes, a range of terroirs, a variety of taste. The Languedoc can’t be boxed in anymore and labeled as one thing - but it can be bottled... you just might not know what’s inside. Surely the joy is in finding out?

All original content: Including text and photographs remain the copyright of the author, (Sophia Longhi) except where otherwise noted. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter @skinandpulp


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