Quite a challenge set for this months WBW - find and taste a mid-priced wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. For many years Ive heard this region being touted as the next big region, in much the same way that people say that Viognier is the new Chardonnay or that German Riesling is coming back into fashion. Now Im not be-littling the region. There are some truly great whites and reds from there that I love. But they are a right bastard to sell. Now many in the know say that L-R is the potential saviour of the French wine industry, because the AOC regs are a lot looser there, and varietal labeling is permitted. These days of supermarket wine knowledge - variety is king. But you see the big problem that I have is that few of the wines that I know and love are mono-cepage, most of them are blends of anything and everything that the winemaker could plant or get his mitts on. Most of the predominant varieties are of course Rhone varieties. Carignane, Cinsault, Grenache (noir and blanc), Syrah, Mourvedre, Marsanne, Rousanne, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Lladoner Pelut etc etc. Increasingly the more commercially viable grapes are starting to increase in plantings - Cabernet, Merlot and of course Chardonnay.
For many years the wines of this region have been the workhorse wines of France. I remember at college buying £3 bottles of Corbieres, Fitou, Minervois etc at the corner shop. These rustic red wines were amongst my first reds as I made the cautious transition from white wine to red. For all their cheapness, they were always very drinkable wines full of warming summery flavours, giving me the mental image of drinking in the garrigue amongst the scrublands of the region, sun beating down on me as I gaze over the med.
Later when I went to work for Malmaison I was introduced to more expensive wines of the region. Domaine d'Aupilhac, Domaine de l'Arjolle, Domaine Piccinini, Chateau St Martin de la Garrigue all good mid-range wines, exotic, food orientated wines that worked really well with the provincial style menu we had at the time. Finally working at Amaryllis I got to know the big boys of the region - Prieure St Jean de Bebian, Mas de Daumas Gassac, Domaine de la Grange des Peres, Domaine de la Rectorie, Puech-Haut. But they never sold, and here now, I have very little from the region on my list. In fact at the moment I have one lowly wine, a Picpoul de Pinet from Chateau St Martin de la Garrigue that I just love for its fresh, lipsmacking style (in fact isnt that what Picpoul means - lipstinger?)
So for this challenge I have to raid my cellar again. (it hasnt half taken a hammering recently!) I know that somewhere lurking at the back of my stash is a Collioure from Domaine de la Rectorie that I bought before leaving the Mal, many years ago. Ive no idea what kind of nick it is in, truthfully I dont know if it will age well, I think its a 98 vintage, but it could be older. Im sure Ive got a bottle of Bronzinelle from Chateau St Martin that only just falls into the price bracket, but its right at the back under a couple of boxes of Claret and I cant be arsed to dig it all out. I know also that Ive got a Montpeyroux from d'Aupilhac lurking in there as well, also a 98, but in the end Im going to settle for a Domaine de l'Arjolle Paradoxe, bugger me if this isnt also a 98.
Based in the Cotes de Thongue in a village called Pouzolles, Louis-Marie Tesserenc can quite rightly be called a trailblazer. Amongst the first in the region to adopt new methods, new varieties, constantly pushing the boundaries forward for the betterment of his wines and those of the region. Domaine de l'Arjolle now produces some twelve or so different wines, the majority of which are vineyard blends of traditional Languedoc varieties and more commercially viable varieties like Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon. Paradoxe is a blend of four - 40% Syrah, 25% each of Cabernet and Merlot and a generous 10% of Grenache finishes the blend off. It spends a whole year (sometimes a touch more) in new French oak sourced from two tonnellerie in the region. The wine has a rich smoky character, with dense black fruit flavours with a touch of stewed fruit character about them. There is a white pepper tinglyness on the nose as well which offsets the oak character quite nicely. On the palate the wine is still very firm, a rich medley of fruit, spices and slightly leaner tannins than I had anticipated. The length though is amazing, the spices and a kind of mulberry fruit flavour seem to linger on the palate for ages, warming the tongue nicely. I could just about manage a glass or two of this wine on its own, but it would seem criminal not to pair it off with some nice roasted lamb, thyme and rosemary roasted potatoes and some lightly minted peas.
Ive had a quick look at their website (all in French www.arjolle.com) and they have changed the bottle to a taller bordeaux style bottle. Although that would be easier to rack, the bottle this wine comes in is just fantastic - a squat dumpy bottle - a bit fatter than the bottle Dagueneau uses for Silex.
A great topic for Wine Blog Wednesday as the region is often overlooked.