We're migrating South!
Some of you may already know that throughout 2019, we will be focusing on a different wine region each month. So what are we doing in February?
The South of France!
Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence to be precise. When you think of the South of France, what comes to mind? Warm, Mediterranean climate with little rain, sitting in a lounge chair on the beach with a glass of chilled rosé; it's so good down there that even the winters are mild!
But how does all this heat affect the wine? Well, the warm climate (which can often reach above 30 degree Celsius) allows the grapes to fully ripen; fully ripened grapes equal highly concentrated flavours which transfer into the wine! Fortunately, the flavours do not become too plummy or jammy because much of the South of France has a cooling sea breeze and/or help from the cooling Mistral and Tramontane winds. These winds help keep the vineyards dry and free from rot or disease.
On top of the hot weather, the Languedoc-Roussillon area has many hills which help angle the vineyards towards the sun and provides protection again the Mistral wind which can reach up to 95 mph.
What can you expect from the wines?
In a nutshell, good value. There are a total of seven main black grapes grown in this region and five main white grapes. The good thing about the South of France is that, because there are fewer and less stringent wine laws down there, a greater variety of wines can be produced without as much restriction. The bad thing is that because producers have a greater reign and can make a wide range of wines and styles, knowing what your buying can be made that little bit more difficult! Don't worry, we've given you a break down of the grapes that make up majority of the blends down there so you should be able to work out what a bottle of juice will be like!
Let's start with the red wine, i.e. black varieties:
Syrah - this grape is a favourite amongst the cooler sites within the South of France. The small, thick skinned and darkly coloured grape is famous around the world for its varietal flavours and how differently is can become depending on the climate. Similar to the Rhone Valley (which we will cover later in the year), Syrah from a warm climate will tend to produce medium bodied wines. If ripened properly, you will smell and taste fresh, ripe black fruits like blackcurrants, and blackberries. Syrah tends to lend itself to spice as well, for example in the South of France you may experience what we like to call cool spice (black or white pepper), smoke and dried herbs. Due to its dark, thick skins, it usually produces deliciously smooth but high tannins with medium acidity.
Grenache - filling in the other, warmer vineyards is Grenache. Grenache needs a fair amount of heat to ripen and has a high drought and disease tolerance due to its thick skins. The wine from Grenache tends to be full bodied and high ABV (these usually go hand-in-hand), with low to medium acidity for pure red fruit flavours. The high ABV is due to the high sugar content (as sugar converts into alcohol during the wine making process) and the high sugar is gained from the late ripening of the grape throughout the warm climate. However, as this grape ripens later in the season, the acidity becomes lower by the time it is ready to be picked. Grenache is not usually oaked in new oak as this can overwhelm its fresh fruit flavours. In the South of France, you will usually find that Grenache is blended with Carignan (to add colour, tannin and acidity) and Mourvedre (to add colour, high tannins and black fruit).
Carignan - traditionally Carignan has been used as a blending grape, added to wines to bring tannin, acidity and colour. Usually it lacks fresh fruit or finesse. However, if old vines are used (the older a vine becomes, less fruit it produces each year but the flavours within the fruit become more concentrated) on poor soil (to stress the vines even further) it can produce quality wine. Look for "Vieilles Vignes" on the bottle label.
Mourvedre - think meat. No seriously, meat. Again, usually playing a supporting role to Grenache. Mourvedre needs a lot of heat to ripen and is near the limit of where it can fully ripen in France (any further north than the Rhone Valley and it will not ripen). Similarly to Carignan, Mourvedre is high in tannins and colour and when fully ripened can develop dense black fruit flavours. If left to develop further, game-y and meaty aromas become present with black bramble fruit.
Cinsault - and finally Cinsault, the most delicate of them all. Cinsault provides light, fresh red fruit flavours. Typically used to produce rosés, you can also pick up a bottle of Cinsault made from bush vines (vines trained close to the ground to collect the radiating heat) which are usually great value for money.
You will also see Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grown in the South. However, we will be covering these grapes in our Bordeaux article in March, so keep your eyes peeled for that next month!
Where are you going to find the best red wines? The cooler areas like Limoux and the upper limits of Cotes Du Roussillon will produce wines with more finesse and lighter tannins, as mentioned above these are probably going to be Syrah based. In the warmer sites, Grenache and Mourvedre will be the stars of the show, with the best versions being full bodied, spicy red fruit from the Grenache with soft oak flavours. Look for Fitou, Corbieres, Minervois or Bandol for Mourvedre.
On to the whites!
You really have the following five main grapes:
Chardonnay - This is a grape which we will cover in detail when we get to Burgundy; but in the meantime, Chardonnay performs at its best in cooler regions. However, it produces fuller bodied, lower acid wines in warmer climates like Languedoc-Roussillon. Due to the cooling climate in Limoux, this is where you will find the most premium Chardys usually with an oaked influence. The wines will be round in the mouth with ripe stone fruits.
Sauvignon Blanc - Yet another grape that we will cover with far greater detail in Bordeaux, Loire and many of the New World regions. The Sauvignon made in Southern France will be simple and fresh as they try to maintain that high acidity. Think citrus fruits and peach.
These two grapes are generally used for the production of IGT (local) wines, where producers are able to use grape from multiple vineyards depending on soil, altitude and location to produce higher quality, inexpensive wines.
Grenache Blanc - a mutation of the red variety. Grenache Blanc tends to make dry whites that have a soft peachy fruitiness, full body and low acidity. Grenache Blanc tends to oxidise (age) quickly so is usually blended with other grapes (especially those from the Rhone region).
Muscat - used in the production of sweet fortified wines but also sometimes used to make dry wines with aromatic grapey flavours. This is the only grape which actually smells like fresh grapes!
Picpoul - many of you may have come across the wine Picpoul de Pinet which is, as you've guessed it, the grape of Pinet. Pinet is located right in the centre of the Golf of Lion and is best known for producing white wines with refreshing high acidity and green fruit and citrus flavours.
So we have covered red and white, but what about rosé?
Majority of the rosé produced in the south of France comes from Provence, an area to the east of the Golf of Lion, a good 60 miles away from the other main wine producing areas. Like Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence's landscape is varied and broken up by many ranges of hills, providing good protection from the Mistral winds (y'know the really fast one) and also a good variety of differing soils and aspects.
The rosé from Provence tends to be very pale in colour, good acidity and light bodied - perfect for afternoon lunches or aperitifs! They usually display delicate grapefruit and red fruits with hints of Herbs de Provence (who would have guessed).
Provence rosés are going to be slightly more expensive that your average French rosé, but boy are they worth it!
Anyway, there's the low down of the grapes of the South of France; Alex and Kevin will be on hand on 28 February to guide you through the selection of wines on offer with tasting notes and food pairings!
The Love Wine Team