April 2014: The Wine Advocate publishes its in-depth review of Languedoc-Roussillon wines – La Trilogie 2012 is “beautifully done”.

The content of this exhaustive report on the region follows:

The Languedoc and Roussillon: 2011, 2012 and 2013

The Languedoc and the Roussillon continue their gradual progression towards not only making world-class wine (which, in a number of cases, they unquestionably already are), but towards being recognized for it by the consumer. This second factor always takes longer, and in addition, requires a critical mass of producers performing at a world-class level. In the case of the Languedoc, the region has a long history of growing grapes with an emphasis on maximizing yields, as opposed to quality. The Roussillon also has a long history of producing fortified sweet wines, with less experience producing dry reds. In both cases, the regions are moving the focus to producing quality dry reds that will compete with the top wines of the world. These changes take place both in the vineyard and in the cellar, and this takes time. Nevertheless, today, both the Languedoc and Roussillon have a number of passionate and talented producers who are making the most of their terroir, and I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time before this hard work is recognized more broadly by the trade and the consumer.

Having said that, at the value-priced end of the spectrum, I still think there are too many innocuous, simple and dirty efforts out there. My fear being that the general consumer, after purchasing a random, value-priced effort off the shelf, will find it undrinkable and write off the whole region. In addition, the availability and access to these wines need to increase. This is driven largely by importers, but I was amazed at the number of outstanding wines I was able to taste that did not have an American importer. The sheer diversity in this vast region is mind blowing, and the consumer simply needs to get more access to these wines so they can, as my colleague David Schildknecht says, taste for themselves! I certainly hope the commentary and notes in this report help you find these top producers (and the up and coming ones as well) so you can see for yourself how profound these wines can be.

It’s also worth noting the dramatic increase in the overall quality of the whites from both the Roussillon and the Languedoc. Based mainly on Grenache Gris (which I think more and more is the leading white variety), Grenache Blanc, Carignan Blanc and Macabeu, the best whites here have layered, rich and distinctive personalities, with beautiful freshness and focus. They are well worth your attention and money.

Recent Vintages

With regards to vintage profiles for the Languedoc and Roussillon, I’ve always struggled to provide useful information with these. The region is so vast and diverse, that a detailed description of the weather conditions in the Terrasses du Larzac is of little use when trying to understand the challenges faced by growers and winemakers in Limoux, or for that matter, Maury. Nevertheless, if kept at a high enough level, I think there’s value to be added by describing the overall characteristics driven by the vintage, as I think you can find a consistent vintage style in the wines that persists across even this large of a region.

2011: While this was a more difficult vintage in the Southern Rhône valley, it’s an excellent vintage for the Languedoc and Roussillon. Jérémie Depierre of La Pèira describes the vintage as “positioned somewhere between the power and richness of 2010 and the intricate delicacy of 2012,” and Didier Lacreu of Château de la Négly calls it an “authentic Mediterranean vintage”. The wines possess superb aromatics and have sunny, full and layered personalities on the palate. Similar in style to a lighter weight 2009, there is, at times, a headiness to the 2011s, yet the finest have gorgeous depth and concentration, as well as ample structure. Concentration as a whole is behind 2010 and 2009, yet the wines are up-front, perfumed and already approachable. Yields were critical, as those that over-cropped produced more mid-weight efforts that will have to be watched as they evolve. As a whole, quality is reasonably consistent as well. While the vast majority are ideally suited for drinking over the coming 4-5 years, the top wines will have 12-15 years of ultimate longevity.

Looking at the weather, the defining characteristics were an early spring that resulted in a larger crop set, a cool summer and then a hot autumn. Starting off, the vintage began with ample precipitation in the winter of 2010/2011. This was followed by an unusually warm spring which had bud break two to three weeks ahead of schedule. This wealth of moisture early on in the winter replenished the water table, and the early warm weather gave a healthy crop set and set the vintage up for above average yields. However, July followed with cooler overall temperatures, but perfect weather through August and September allowed full ripeness, and harvest started in earnest in late August and wrapped up by October. All of this resulted in forward, approachable wines that are already hard to resist.

2012: While I give the nod to 2012 over 2011 in the Rhône Valley, 2012 is a more difficult vintage for the Languedoc, and to a lesser extent, the Roussillon.

Focusing on the Languedoc, the weather was volatile and cool, with poor weather in the spring reducing yields considerably. These cooler temperatures and volatile weather persisted through the summer and resulted in uneven ripening and a late, difficult harvest. Olivier Julien, of Mas Jullien, says that “It was a complicated year, with difficult decisions…” and goes on to say that while he was happy with the wines, they lack the concentration and depth found in the 2010s and 2011s. Mathieu Ciampi, the winemaker at Puech Haut, also comments that “the lack of concentration in certain tanks is compensated by an elegance and finesse.” Looking at the wines, they show lively, fresh profiles, with more pronounced acidities and lighter weight textures on the palate. While the top wines possess beautiful purity of fruit and overall elegant characters, they lack the concentration and depth found in top vintages like 2007, 2009 and 2010. They will be accessible at an early age, and will need to be watched as they mature. Nevertheless, the best vignerons in this region are able to harvest ripe grapes, and the top wines are impressive and should evolve gracefully. At the lower end, the volatile weather lead to uneven ripening, with herbal characteristics present in some wines, and mostly mid-weight aromas and flavors.

The Roussillon, in comparison, saw a scorching hot, dry season that lacked the cooler summer months experienced in most of the Languedoc. The season started with a cold, rainy winter and a warm spring, but then from July through August remained dry and scorching hot. The only precipitation occurred in August, and also brought devastating hail to the regions of Maury, Lesquerdes and Les Fenouillèdes. Cooler temperatures returned in September, but the lighter crop load and sweltering heat had Roussillon vignerons finishing harvest towards the end of September, over two weeks ahead of average. Looking at the wines, the old vines in this region weathered the heat surprisingly well, and the wines have full-bodied richness and excellent concentration. As a whole, the vintage is stronger here than in the Languedoc. Note, you can also find more details on this vintage in the Roussillon in David Schildknecht’s “Roussillon: Further Ferment On France’s Frontier” report that was published earlier this year onwww.eRobertParker.com.

2013: While the vast majority of France struggled in 2013 with cooler, rainy conditions, the perennial sunny Languedoc and Roussillon are on track to have a good, possibly exceptional vintage. A late harvest across the region, Jérémie Depierre of La Pèira calls the vintage “great” but atypical, and goes on to say that it “combines that delicacy and youthful feeling of finesse of the 2012 – but with more the frame and body of 2011 – or even a hint of the 2010.” Claude Fonquerle of L’Oustal Blanc also says that the vintage is atypical, but comments on the silkiness and high quality of the tannin. Anne Gros of Domaine Anne Gros calls the vintage great, going on to say that there was “late maturity with excellent acidity and moderate degrees (alcohol).” She elaborates that the vintage is “one of precision, a touch of austerity, and in the future, great concentration? a great vintage … to keep!”

Yields are back up over 2012 on average, but still down from the larger crop load of 2011. Grenache as a whole (including in the Rhône Valley) was decimated by poor weather during spring, and a number of cuvées have tweaked blends, with more Syrah or Mourvèdre in the blend to account for the lack of any real quantity of Grenache.

Looking at the wines, they have aromatic similarities to the cooler, more blue fruit and mineral- driven 2012s, with bright acidities, yet have additional depth on the mid-palate and added concentration. While my sample set from the Languedoc was limited, everyone in the Roussillon was eager to show their 2013s, and after tasting plenty, I can’t blame them. Nevertheless, these are very young wines and I’d like to taste a larger number of samples before making any large proclamations. It certainly appears to be spectacular in the Roussillon, but less consistent for the Languedoc. It will, without a doubt however, be a strong vintage for both regions. I’ll wait until I’m able to taste a broader sample set next year to comment further.

The Wines

The vast majority of wines reviewed in this report were tasted in January of 2014, when I spent over two weeks traveling through the regions. The bulk of the reviews consists of 2011s from bottle and 2012s from barrel, yet I was also able to taste a reasonable number of 2013 reds, whites and rosés (75-100 wines).

For the coverage (this report covers over 250 producers and 850 wines), I did larger, appellation-wide tastings, and then followed those tastings with as many domaine visits as possible. In addition, I followed up all of this with numerous tastings at my office in Colorado, with importer-provided samples. I’d like to apologize to the vignerons with whom I was not able to meet for this report. It’s simply not possible to provide comprehensive coverage via visits alone, and my goal is to continue to visit new domaines every year. Additionally, the Languedoc and Roussillon coverage will now be on a yearly basis, as opposed to the every two years as we’ve done in the past. Lastly, I’d like to commend my colleague David Schildknecht for his amazing work in this region. His incredible notes and musing on the wines, the region and his travels through these beautiful, tiny villages was an immense help in the writing of this report.

Languedoc 101

Note, the below summaries were published in The Rhône Report, in March of 2011. I’ve updated to reflect new changes in the AOCs and regulations, and added additional commentary as well.

Containing over 280,000 hectares of vineyards, and 18 appellations, this massive region starts in the east, on the western edge of the Rhône Valley and carries almost all the way to the border of Spain, with the Roussillon tucked into the tail end, right up against the Pyrenees Mountains. It’s contained on its northern edge by the Massif Central and on the southern edge by the Mediterranean Sea.

Starting out, and as you move west from the Rhône Valley towards Spain, you transition truly into the Languedoc, coming to the city of Montpellier and the AOC of Languedoc (previously known as Coteaux du Languedoc). This large, encompassing AOC is then further subdivided into a number of prominent sub-appellations. I try to list the most notable AOCs below, and the top producers I was able to taste from each.

Pic Saint Loup, lying just north of Montpellier and named after the dramatic peak that frames the region, is an exciting sub-appellation that is putting out beautifully fresh, complex and balanced wines, that in a number of cases have a decidedly northern Rhône-like profile. Despite sbeing just 14 miles off the coast, the vineyards sit at an elevation of 1500 feet and are surrounded on three sides by the Cevennes Mountains. With peaks topping out upwards of 3,000 feet, this cold, mountainous air flows into the region during the nights and causes temperatures to plummet. While Grenache and Mourvèdre play a role here, Syrah is the undisputed king. The appellation is also notable for its long hang time, with the Syrah harvest not starting until early October (similar to the Northern Rhône.) Other notable AOCs near here include Saint-Drézéry and Saint-Christol. Top producers from these regions include Château de Lascaux, Clos Marie, Domaine de l’Hortus and Puech Haut.

Crossing over the Cevennes Mountains to the west, roughly 32 kilometers or so northwest of Montpellier and on the southern edge of the Massif Central, lay the regions of Montpeyroux,Terrasses du Larzac, and Saint-Saturnin. Vineyards here are a mix of flat (most of the top vineyards in Terrasses du Larzac lay on the flat lands running up to the base of the Massif Central) and hillside plots, and soils are a combination of clay, sand and limestone. Summers are normally warmer and longer here than the surrounding areas, and the winters are cooler. Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre are king, but very old-vine Cinsault and Carignan, grown on the slopes of the Cevennes, make an appearance in a number of cuvées. This is a hot bed of producers (a number of whom label their wines as Coteaux du Languedoc or Vin de Pays de l’Hérault) with Granges des Pères, La Pèira en Damaisèla, Le Clos du Serres, Mas Jullien, and Montcalmes all calling this region home.

Moving south and further west of Montpeyroux, west of the town of Pézenas and outside the umbrella Languedoc AOC, lies the steep, rugged AOCs of CabrièresFaugères (100% schist soils which give the wines a distinct minerality) and the larger Saint-Chinian. Consisting mostly of rugged, rolling hills, with schist, limestone, and clay soils, this region is complex and has a variety of terroirs. Top producers here include Château Castigno, Domaine Canet Valette, Domaine de Cébène, Domaine Saint Antonin, Hecht & Bannier, Leon Barral and Mas Gabinèle.

Due south, just outside the town of Pézenas, lies the Picpoul de Pinet AOC. Home to decidedly delicious and quaffable whites made from 100% Picpoul, these efforts often have a briny, saline quality, as well as vibrant fruit that makes them perfect to pair with seafood, or to start a meal.

Moving west, the small, rugged and incredibly beautiful La Clape sub-appellation, lying just outside of Narbonne and coming up against the Mediterranean, possesses a mixture of limestone and clay soils. This appellation has the potential to produce concentrated, powerful wines that also display finesse and elegance. The top estate here is Château de la Négly.

Continuing south and west towards the town of Carcassonne, and limited by the Aude Valley in the south, the Minervois (which gets its name from the village of Minerve and was awarded AOC status in 1985) and smaller Minervois La Livinière AOCs butt up against the northern edge of Corbières, with the smaller, frontier AOCs of CabardèsMalepère, and Limoux forming the western edge of the Languedoc. The terroir here is rolling, windswept hills, with diverse clay, marl and limestone soils. Elevation also plays a role here, with some vineyards lying at upwards of 1,000 feet in elevation. While Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Piquepoul, Terret, and Mourvèdre play a role in Minervois, the Cabardès, Malepère, and Limoux regions regularly play with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon because of the Atlantic winds’ influence in the area. Top producers include Château Maris, Domaine Anne Gros, Jean Baptiste Senat and L’Oustal Blanc.

The Corbières AOC flows back east towards the Mediterranean and all the way south towards the Côtes du Roussillon. Like Minervois in the north, this region was awarded AOC status in 1985 and is a large, diverse region that’s further subdivided into a number of different terroirs, most residing on limestone, marl, and sandstone soils. As with Minervois further north, Carignan plays a vital role here, with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault all allowed as well. Top producers include Château Vieux Moulin, Domaine du Grand Arc, Gérard Bertrand, Les Clos Perdus and Maxime Magnon.

Roussillon 101

Picking up where Corbières ends and carrying almost to the Spanish border are the AOCs ofCôtes du Roussillon Villages and the larger Côtes du Roussillon. While the Roussillon is seemingly always grouped with the Languedoc, the wines and terroirs are distinctly different, and the wines from this region have more in common with the wines across the border in Spain than they do with the wines of the Languedoc. While it’s common to find aromas and flavors of sweet red and black fruits, scrub brush, juniper and sage (the “garrigue” of the Languedoc, which is subtly different from the “garrigue” of the Rhône Valley) in the reds of the Languedoc, the Roussillon yields much darker, richer wines, with notions of warm dark fruits, chocolate, crushed rock and licorice being the norm.

Looking specifically at the region, it is part of the Pyrénées-Orientales department of France and is basically a large amphitheater that’s bordered on the east by the Mediterranean Sea, and then by three mountain ranges; the Pyrenees to the west, the Albères to the south, and the Corbières to the north. Like the Languedoc to the north, the region has a Mediterranean climate, and is one of the sunniest and driest regions in France.

Focusing on dry reds, there are six appellations; Côtes du Roussillon, Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Maury Sec, Collioure and Côtes Catalanes (technically classified as an IGP and not an AOC).

The largest of the AOCs, the Côtes du Roussillon covers a full 118 towns and over 5,000 hectares, divided up between four larger areas; the Agly Valley and the Fenouillèdes in the north, the Tet Valley and the Aspres in the middle, the Tech Valley and the Albères in the south, and the coastal region along the Mediterranean.

Inside the Côtes du Roussillon Villages, which includes 32 towns and over 2,000 hectares of vines, there are four specific villages that can be listed, Caramany, Latour de France, Lesquerde and Tautavel; all four of which are located in the more northern portion of the AOC, in the Agly Valley. The Côtes du Roussillon Caramany is the second largest of the four, covering 217 hectares, mostly on Gneiss and Granite Soils. The two smaller regions include the Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France, which is almost exclusively brown schist soils, and the cooler Côtes du Roussillon Villages Lesquerde, which lies on a plateau, at an elevation of 1,050 feet, and is primarily limestone and sand. Syrah in particular excels from Lesquerde, with the wines showing beautiful elegance and freshness. The largest of the four appellations, theCôtes du Roussillon Villages Tautavel covers over 300 hectares and includes the towns of Tautavel and Vingrau. The terroir here is mostly steep slopes and red clay and red limestone based soils.

In the same general area, the new AOC of Maury Sec was created in 2011 and covers the same geographical region as the Maury AOC (created in 1936 and only for Vins Doux Naturels), but is uses specifically for dry wines. Comprised mostly of unique black schist soils, this warm, rugged AOC produces powerful, rich and concentrated wines.

The Côtes du Roussillon Les Aspres, which was created in 2003, contains only red wines and lies primarily inland, due west from Perpignan. Covering a tiny 46 hectares, altitude starts to play a role here, and the soils are primarily rolled stones, gravel, clay and limestone.

Moving towards the coast, south of the town of Perpignan, the Collioure AOC includes the villages of Collioure, Banyuls, Port-Vendres and Cerbère. It benefits from its proximity to the sea and the wines have notable freshness, with perfumed aromatics. This region also produces high quality rosés and whites.

A large, generic label that’s used heavily by producers due to the more lenient blending regulations is Côtes Catalanes. Created in 2011, it covers the 118 communes of the Côtes du Roussillon and includes roughly 4,000 hectares of vines. It allows single variety blends, as well as reds, whites and rosés.

Looking at the sweet wines, the Vins Doux Naturels, or VDN, you have the AOCs of:RivesaltesMauryBanyuls (and Banyuls Grand Cru) and Muscat de Rivesaltes. I’ll delve into more detail on the sweet wines from this region in a later report.

Each of the regions has strict blending regulations, which I’ve opted to not include here, yet old-vine Grenache, Carignan and Syrah rule in these region, with Mourvèdre also utilized (quite successfully I might add) in some cuvées. Looking at the whites, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Macabeu are the most prevalent, yet you can also find Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino and Chardonnay.

The Roussillon boasts a wealth of serious estates, including Chapoutier’s Bila Haut, Calvet-Thunevin, Clot de l’Oum, Domaine d’Edre, Domaine des Enfants, Domaine du Clos des Fées, Domaine du Mas Becha, Domaine Gauby, Domaine Lafage, Gilles Troullier, Jean-Louis Tribouley, and Puig-Parahy, just to name a few.

—Jeb Dunnuck