Country Roads

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The Languedoc-Roussillon region of France lies down in the South, next door to Spain. It’s an area rich in colourful history and the home to the old towns of Nîmes, Montpelier, and Perpignan. They have been making wine here for centuries. The region is dominated by over 700,000 acres of vineyards, three times the combined area of all the vineyards in Bordeaux. Languedoc-Roussillon is often described as the world’s largest vineyard and it is from here that the Vin de Pays d’Oc (“Country Wines of the South”) originate.

One bleak December under a frigid grey sky, I drove along some of the meandering country roads south of the ancient walled city of Carcassonne, between huddled villages and skeletal winter trees.

An unusual Jeanjean bottle. An unusual Jeanjean bottle.

Vines were everywhere: countless thousands of them, along the sides of the meandering roads and spreading over the wild-looking hills. Yet all these thousands of vines were sleeping, for in the winter, the vines are dormant. It was an exhilarating and strangely haunting experience.

La Garde 2009, Vin de Pays d’Oc (red), France. (Friendship Bt. 405)

This wine has been made from Merlot grapes as well as two other typical grapes of the region, the Grenache and the Carignan. It’s a dry but fruity, medium-bodied easy-drinker with a pleasing balance of fruit and tannin. There’s a decent aftertaste too: usually the sign of a well-made wine. In Thailand there’s a tendency to chill red wines and this is usually no bad thing, for in most cases a warm red wine usually feels flabby and loses its firmness. Normally, a bit of chilling “tightens up” the body of the wine.

However, if you normally chill your reds, go easy on this one, otherwise the tannins will come forward and you’ll lose the fresh fruity quality. Actually, the wine improves when the bottle has been left open for half an hour or so. This is a very pleasing little number that would be ideal for a light evening meal like pizza or quiche. It would make an excellent party wine too, and it’s excellent value for money. Incidentally, be careful not to confuse this with Chateau La Garde in Bordeaux, which produces very different and much more expensive wines.

Jeanjean Merlot 2008, Vin de Pays d’Oc (red), France. (Foodland, Bt. 415)

You must have noticed these peculiar bendy-looking bottles. Presumably designed to be eye-catching, you’ll probably either love them or hate them. The Jeanjean company has its roots at Saint-Félix-de-Lodez, a small village in the Hérault region of Southern France. Founded by Maurice Jeanjean in 1870, five generations of the family have succeeded each other in the company, which today is the leading trader in quality wines from Languedoc-Roussillon.

The first sniff of this bright red Merlot (mehr-LOH) brings a lovely aroma of strawberries and dark berries; there’s even a hint of chocolate. It’s a medium-bodied, dry wine with an almost velvety smoothness to the taste and a satisfyingly rich mouth-feel. This is a well-made commercial style of wine. It feels as though the wine is trying desperately to be liked, like an eager-to-please small dog. However, if you enjoy a light and easy drinker, this is could be for you. I’d be quite happy to knock this back at any time, especially if it’s served on the cool side.

It drinks really well on its own, but I think it would also work well with light snacks. It would be good fun at a dinner party too, but if you find the strange bottle something of a distraction on the table, you can always tip the whole lot into a decanter.