The Pays d’Oc vineyard of southern France is a treasure trove for sommeliers and wine buyers. With 58 different grape varieties allowed and winemakers’ freedom of expression positively encouraged so in Pays d’Oc one can find wines to suit every taste – made with traditional southern grapes and international varieties to more offbeat wines such as Alicante-Bouschet, Nielluccio and Mareslan, wines that turn to gold in a sommelier’s hands. As the quality in the region has improved over the years so the wines’ notorious value for money is even keener, especially against a backdrop of rising costs.
From a sample call of over 100 wines, Peter Dean’s task was to pick out 20 wines that would work well in a restaurant, wine bar and pub setting.
When I agreed to do a tasting of Pays d’Oc IGP wines from the South of France that would work in the on-trade I was expecting to receive a couple of dozen wines, many of which I thought I would already know having had a house in the area for 12 years or more.
So I was somewhat surprised, when I arrived home from the early morning market in nearby Limoux, to find an entire pallet of samples outside the front door.
So began a fascinating (and exhausting) vinous tour of the Pays d’Oc with an enormous range of wines both in grape varieties and styles.
What makes the Pays d’Oc area a treasure trove for sommeliers is the freedom granted to winemakers particularly with what grapes they can use – all (count ‘em) 58 different varieties. What this means in practice is that you have plenty of wines made with the traditional southern varieties of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Viognier, Cinsault and Rolle (Vermentino) – either blended or made as stand-alone wines; you also have plenty of wines using ‘international’ varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec and Chardonnay; but then you also have this massive range of other more offbeat varieties including Alicante-Bouschet, Nielluccio, Marselan – you name it.
Then there is the sheer extent of the Pays d’Oc region. This is 120,000 hectares within the Languedoc-Roussillon stretching from the Camargue down to the Pyrenees where they meet the Spanish border. There is a huge diversity of soil types, terrain and climate here, so much so that when you overlay the wide palette of grape varieties and the winemakers’ freedom of expression over them – you get a bewildering array of wines that have genuinely individual characteristics.
Since Pays d’Oc IGP was formed in 1987 the quality of the wines has improved immeasurably while the value for money has stayed constant.
I set out to whittle my pallet of wines down to 20 – 10 red 10 white – that would work well in any sommelier’s hands, that would work well with food, and have got a creative edge that displays that freedom of expression.
10 PAYS D’OC REDS
Arômes Sauvages Alicante-Bouschet 2020, Domaine Viranel, 13.5%
An Alicante-Bouschet made in a lighter style, although this still has a wild, broody, thrilling edge to it. Deep ruby red you’ll find red and black fruit, black pepper, wild herbs (thyme, fennel) with a musky edge. The mouthfeel is fresh, textured, with youthful tannins and attractive notes of wild blackberry, graphite and dark chocolate. The finish has a firm grip, a sour plum note and a twist of citrus. Like Pradal’s Vignes Centenaires Alicante, this would be great with an entrecote or a plate of charcuterie. RRP €11.8 at cellar door.
Cinsault D’Enfer 2021, Domaine Combe Blanche, 13.5% – Organic
Cinsault is called the ‘Pinot Noir of the South’ because of its lighter style of wines – fruity, elegant and approachable. This excellent 100% Cinsault comes from one of the best vineyards near La Livinière in the Minervois – high up and North-facing. The aromas are charming with violets and red berry fruit. The mouthfeel is fresh, smooth, sweet-edged and lithe, wild blackberry and mulberry combine with hints of liquorice and a salty twist in the finish. Hugely versatile, try this with hard cheeses, grilled vegetables or pizza. Superb. RRP €16 at cellar door.
Available from: Direct from the domaine
Marselan 2020, Domaine Sibille, 14% – Organic
Marselan is a newish grape variety – a crossing between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache – with very small berries that creates deep purple wines with high polyphenols and a variety that is quite rare to find made as a 100% varietal wine. Having said that, there were a fair number submitted to this tasting ranging from a crisp style with a sour twang, to big and jammy. This example, however, is nicely poised – on the nose you get red and black fruits with strawberry and black plum to the fore, a touch of liquorice with a menthol lift, the mouthfeel is medium bodied, juicy, ample with a lovely balance, aided by crisp, fresh fruit and a lip-smacking finish. Pair with tomato-based dishes or lightly spiced vegetables. RRP €11.2 at cellar door.
Available from: Direct from the domaine
Nielluccio 2021, Domaine de la Cendrillon, 13% – Organic
Fascinating new no-added-sulfites wine from a domaine with a lot of history. Nielluccio is a grape that is a native of Corsica, although it originally came from Tuscany where it is better known as Sangiovese. La Cendrillon also has Italian connections in that it is named after an inn that stood on the road between Narbonne and Toulouse in Roman times. The wine is almost transparent ruby; you find red and black berries on the nose with hints of vanilla, menthol and spice; in the mouth the wine is fresh and fruity, there is some complexity here, ripe tannins, fine, grainy texture with a long finish. Pair with Italian dishes – pasta with meat or mushroom ragù. Great label and fascinating wine. RRP €10 at cellar door.
Available from: Direct from the domaine
Vignes Centenaires Alicante 2019, Carriere Pradal, 15%
Fabulously powerful 100% Alicante-Bouschet made from 100 year-old vines in a low intervention style. Once a widely-planted variety in France, when it was used for blending, it has now come into its own both here and Portugal where striking examples of it as a single varietal wine can be made like here. Deep purple, almost black, the aromas are broody with black wild cherries, black olives, persimmon, and hearth; in the mouth the wine is structured, dense and full with black fruits, mocha, ink; the tannins have a grip but there’s a good degree of freshness which balances the wine beautifully. Pair with foods that have intense flavours – BBQ and smoked meats. For those who like their red to have a bit of heft. RRP €19 at cellar door.
Available from: Direct from the domaine
Syrah Les Epices 2020, Domaine Les Yeuses, 14%
From a fascinating domaine in-between the Mediterranean and the garrigue scrubland, this property was built in the 13th century on the site of an old Roman villa and was used during the French Revolution as the first consul of Mèze. The wine is dark with spicy black fruit; a rounded mouthfeel which has earthy and leathery notes, dark cherry flavours with dark chocolate and cinnamon. The wine is ripe but nicely balanced with some firm acidity and fine-grained tannins. Will pair well with tagine and other spicy Moroccan dishes. Amazing value. RRP €9.3 at cellar door.
Available from: South Down Cellars
Hautes Pistes Pinot Noir 2021, Aubert & Mathieu, 13%
Classy, elegant Pinot Noir that comes across like a cold climate wine – ie. fresh and crunchy with oodles of red fruit. To look at the wine is very pale ruby, almost see-through, you find fresh raspberry on the nose, black tea, a little hint of sous bois, the palate is medium bodied, crisp with small wild red cherries, blue plum and a sappy, green quality that helps tie all the components together. Impressive, especially as Pinot Noir is that much harder to manage in hot climates. Would pair well with Lancashire hot pot. RRP €14.9 at cellar door.
Available from: Jeroboams
‘Pure’ Petit-Verdot 2021, Bruno Andreu, 14.5%
Where most of France’s Petit Verdot is situated in Bordeaux where it is used to stiffen Cabernet Sauvignon blends, there is still some excellent quality fruit in the Languedoc as witnessed in this limited edition, 100% Petit Verdot from Bruno Andreu. Bruno is a smart cookie and makes wines with a modern, forward-looking style that still has its roots in the rustic charm of the terroir. Deep ruby red, you’ll find violets, cassis and pencil shavings on the nose; in the mouth the wine is warm, generous and open with a powerful structure of tightly-woven tannins underneath. Inky, with blackberries, damsons and sweet spices, this incredibly good value wine shows once again how good the wines of Pays d’Oc IGP are for sommeliers and wine lovers everywhere. Pair with a rare steak or beef stew. RRP €20 at cellar door.
Available from: De Burgh Wine Merchants
Les Combes Cabernet Sauvignon 2020, Domaine Grand-Chemin, 12.5%
Beautifully restrained, lighter style of Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose you find dark cherries, blackcurrants, green peppers, blackcurrant leaf, with a little touch of vanilla and cedar; on the palate the wine has a wonderful texture and poise, it’s very dry, has plenty of fruit but it’s more of a savoury style with some considerable elegance. Pair with entrecote or a quality burger. RRP €9.3 at cellar door.
Available from: Theatre of Wine
Les Gaillards Malbec 2021, Domaine Pujol, 14%
There is a lovely roundness to this easy-drinking Malbec. At first you get aromas of red plums, liquorice, violets and then a hint of sweet tobacco. From the first sip there is a warm, rounded and welcoming mouthfeel, with ripe, finely meshed tannins; lovely balance to this wine and a fine, bittersweet finish. Will pair well with pork dishes and fattier fish like salmon. Excellent. RRP €6.8 at cellar door.
Available from: Bacchus Vin Ltd
10 PAYS D’OC WHITES
“Coup de chance!” (Tome.1), Colombard/ Sauvignon, 2021, Maison Ventenac, 12%
An experimental mix of grape varieties (Petit Manseng as well as Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc) that works brilliantly and in a playful manner – hence the name and the maison listed as an ‘auteur’ on the front label. The wine has ripe, attractive aromas, with a good degree of complexity – ripe orchard fruit, stone fruit and pretty white flowers (honeysuckle). In the mouth the wine is medium weight with citrus fruit, lime pith, and a herbal quality that results in a not unpleasant bitter, tannic quality that makes it work gastronomically. Try this with white fish and white meat dishes with creamy sauces. RRP €7.5 at cellar door.
Available from: Graft Wine
Viognier 2021, Domaine de Viranel, 13.5%
Viognier is useful as a blending component but also makes some terrific single-varietal wines like this classy wine from the Saint-Chinian region. There’s a lovely purity on the nose here with pretty flowers and tangerine skin. Medium bodied, rounded mouthfeel, with medium to low acidity balancing the ripe lemon flavours and a slightly oily texture. Fresh and juicy, clean, with hints of mango and peach on the finish. Very classy. Pair with roast chicken, turkey or poached salmon. RRP €12 at cellar door.
Available from: Gerrard Seel Ltd
Marsanne 2020, Domaine la Provenquière, 13%
Winemakers in Pays d’Oc often use Rhône grape varieties to good effect and this lively 100% Marsanne is a case in point. The wine is shiny gold and looks as though it’s got some age on it, so the fresh mineral drive when you take a sip is a little surprising. The nose is complex and rich with intense aromas of nuts and quince, apricot and nectarine. In the mouth the wine has got a lovely vibrancy – it’s lively, with a refreshing, saline quality to the finish. Works well with all manner of seafood and shellfish – lobster, crab, prawns and mussels. RRP €7.3 at cellar door.
Available from: Hallgarten
La Marquise 2019, Calmel Joseph, 12.5% – Organic
A blend of Roussanne and Grenache Gris from the estate’s “most wayward parcels” in the Corbières. 2019 was wet followed by a hot summer, allowing the Rousanne to ripen and bring with it full-on yellow stone fruit characteristics and pretty floral hints. There’s some complexity here. You will also find citrus notes and nutty, spicy, old wood flavours from the 10-months the wine has spent on its fine lees in two-year old barrels – the fruit still shining, however. Excellently judged, well-made wine with a nice, wet stone finish. Serve as an aperitif or with a cheese board. RRP €19 at cellar door.
Available from: Daniel Lambert Ltd
Chenin Blanc 2021, Claude Vialade, 12%
Chenin Blanc grows well right across the Languedoc-Roussillon. Pale, straw-coloured, this Chenin Blanc is fresh and floral the nose being an attractive melange of baked apple, pear, yellow peach and jasmine; the mouthfeel is medium-bodied, with great balance – plenty of ripe fruit, lemon curd with a fine texture. Impressively made. A real cross between Old and New World styles. Very versatile as a pairing wine, try this with creamy chicken, veal or rich seafood dishes – fish pie for example. RRP €14 at cellar door.
‘C’ Chardonnay 2021, Domaine Py, 12.5% – Organic
The third Chardonnay in this selection is a made in a crisp, unoaked style, light to medium bodied with aromas of green melon, pear and citrus. There’s a refreshing crispness on the central palate, with citrus detail and a caramel note on the finish. The wine is dry, has a lovely fine texture, with just a touch of tannin. This is a wine for those who want something a bit zestier from their Chardonnay and will have great cut-through with food that has a creamy sauce. RRP €7 at cellar door.
Chardonnay Fût 2020, Mas du Novi, 14% – Organic
It is not just the label of this wine that feels Italian, the style the winemaker is going for here reminds me of some of the rich, intense Chardonnays from central and Northern Italy. This is a particular, ripe style but very nicely put together. Shiny gold, the nose is rich and intense, with dried apple as well as fresh orchard fruit, there’s a woody vanilla note; the mouthfeel is ample-bodied, oleaginous, silky with a feint, sharp citrus note on the front palate that adds balance. Pair this with dishes that have a grilled, smoked or toasted flavour. Impressive. RRP €20 at cellar door.
Available from: Direct from the domaine
Sauvignon, Domaine La Prade, 2021, 12.5%
Sauvignon Blanc can be made in a whole variety of styles, of course, and this crisp, refreshing 100% varietal is Old World in style – that is, it is ripe and fruity but not overdone or too ‘tutti frutti’. The aromatics are pretty with elderflower and grapefruit; in the mouth the wine is crisp and precise, with flavours of green apple, lemon zest and a nice grapefruit pith bitterness on the very dry finish. Will work very well with a variety of dishes – try it with ceviche. RRP €6.
Available from: Berkmann Wine Cellars
Chardonnay Vielles Vignes 2021, Les Mougeottes, 13.5%
Burgundian in look and style, this is a classy Chardonnay that is for those who do like a bit of oak to shine through in their Chardonnay, although it is still nicely integrated. Woody vanilla notes, citrus and grapefruit, warm buttery finish. There is a great balance to the wine and a clean freshness at its core – a style that will appeal to lovers of Chardonnay from the Mâconnais. Will pair well with fish pâtés, fish, chicken or vegetable terrines, also risotto Milanese or lobster dishes.
Available from: Enotria&Coe RRP £10.95
Figure Libre Freestyle Blanc 2020, Domaine Gayda, 12.5% – Organic
Grenache Blanc/ Maccabeu/ Marsanne/ Viognier
No better example of the freedom afforded winemakers in the Pays d’Oc than this white blend – ‘Figure Libre’ literally meaning ‘Freestyle’ – which sees the coming together of grapes that you wouldn’t normally expect to see together, the blend changing each year, and differing percentages of wine aged in concrete egg and aged barriques. Golden to look at with a complex array of aromas and flavours – you’ll find apricot skin, tangerine rind, lemon zest, honeysuckle, white peaches and a hint of aged oak. Hugely versatile, try this with white fish dishes, vegetarian dishes and blue cheese. RRP €14 at cellar door.
Available from: Cambridge Wine Merchants
Pays d’Oc is a supplier partner of The Buyer.