Tuesday 17 October 2017

French, red and single

Liam Campbell

The Languedoc's Mediterranean wine region has an ancient reputation dating back 2,000 years, when it supplied Rome, the heart of the Roman Empire, with most of its wine.

For a century, Languedoc's wine quality and good name was to suffer. From the 1860s, the invasion of the unknown American insect Phylloxera caused catastrophic destruction of vines, before moving on to global devastation.

More robust vines – but with less flavoursome fruit – were planted, resulting in cheap and thin-bodied reds. These wines were produced in bulk to satisfy the thirst of the swelling numbers of workers feeding the industrial revolution, carried speedily on the new network of railway lines.

During both world wars, with water quality suspect, French soldiers could expect a daily ration of Languedoc wine.

Over the past 30 years the quality has soared, beginning slowly in the 1970s with the French government's campaign of quality over quantity to encourage consumers to drink less simple wine and choose better quality. Farmers were given grants to replace poor-performing vineyards with other crops.

In the 1980s, the momentum accelerated dramatically with the creation of a new wine classification – Vin de Pays, or 'country wines'. This allowed for great flexibility and encouraged enthusiastic experimentation in both the vineyard and the winery.

Today, one 10th of France's wine comes from the Languedoc region, producing more wine than Australia.

Among its many grape varietals are Syrah, with its black pepper, meaty and blackberry character; the ripe strawberry and white-pepper flavours of Grenache, and the rustic Carignan, used traditionally as a blending wine to boost tannin and mouth-watering acidity.

Here are some unblended wines to showcase the contrasting styles each varietal brings. Languedoc, a reputation restored. Discover.

1) DignitE Syrah 2009 Boutinot, Pays d'Oc, 15pc

A classy bouquet with cedar-wood notes opens the door to a palate of spiced plum and blackberry fruit, grounded by a granite minerality hiding the powerful alcohol. Serve with roasted brisket and mashed celeriac.

€14.99 at Rednose Wine, Clonmel; curiouswines.ie and rednosewine.com

2) Syrah Des Pins 2011 Domaine Preignes le Vieux, Pays d'Oc, 13pc

An exotic bouquet of meaty pork and purple-skinned fruits typifies Syrah. Delicious black-berry fruits with graphite mineral flavours. Barbecue sausages with a spicy, smoky sauce.

€11.90 at winesdirect.ie

3) Syrah 2011 Nord Sud, Laurent Miquel, Pays d'Oc, 13.5pc

Hidden depths of spiced black fruits infused with herbs, nutmeg and black pepper. Firm and friendly tannins to match with a peppered steak and caramelised onions.

€12.99 at Dunnes Stores nationwide

4) Carignan 2011 Marie-Claude & Jean-Louis Poudou, Coteaux de Peyriac, 13.5pc (organic grapes)

Fruity, ripe red-cherry aromas continue with delicious, juicy, red morello cherry flavours. Hard to beat with roasted turkey drumsticks wrapped with smoked rashers.

€12.99 at Holland's Bray; 21 Coburg Street, Cork, and O'Leary's, Cootehill. In Dublin: Grapevine, Drumcondra; Gibney's, Malahide, and Red Island, Skerries

5) Nicolas Grenache Noir 2010 Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Lafage, Cotes Catalanes, 15pc

Red-berry and earthy scents mirror the palate, where the potent alcohol delivers warming and cosseting earthy fruit and gentle tannins. Match with a green-lentil and bacon stew studded with tiny pickled onions.

€16.99 at: McCambridge's and Cases Wine Warehouse, Galway; Cashel Wine Cellar, Co Tipperary, and Redmond's, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

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