South by South West

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So then, what’s the largest wine-producing area in France? Bordeaux? Or Burgundy perhaps? Well actually, neither. In terms of volume alone, they are both insignificant compared to the Languedoc-Roussillon.

This vast area stretches from the western banks of the River Rhône and the ancient town of Avignon (whose bridge you may recall singing about as a child) to Perpignan, down near the Spanish Border in the South West.

Beauvoisin wine label. Beauvoisin wine label.

Languedoc-Roussillon is dominated by over 740,000 acres of vineyards (that’s well over 1,000 square miles) and is the largest wine-producing region in the world. Historians have speculated that grapevines existed there long before the arrival of human beings.

Château Beauvoisin 2009 (red), Costières de Nîmes, France (Bt. 480 @ Friendship)

If you were to drive about thirty miles down the A9 from Avignon, you’d arrive at the old Roman city of Nîmes. Costières de Nîmes is the name given to wines that are produced between Nîmes itself and the western banks of the Rhône. It’s one of the oldest wine areas in Europe.

If you enjoy exuberant wine labels, here’s one that will grab your attention. It’s a jolly good wine too, made from a blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes grown about ten miles south of Nîmes. The wine is an attractive cherry red, with a fascinating aroma that will make you go back and sniff again. You might recognise aromas of red cherries, vanilla and raspberry, with figs and sultanas in the background. There’s plenty of red cherry fruit on the palate and a pleasing touch of acidity. It has quite a soft mouth-feel and very soft, almost imperceptible tannins; a dry, fruity finish with hints of oak and herbs. It’s a light easy-drinker of real quality and very similar to a southern Rhône in style. It even comes in an embossed heavy Rhône-style bottle. The touch of sharpness would make it a good partner for pasta and I think it’s one of the few reds that you could enjoy with roast chicken. I think it’s a splendid wine and evidently so do those fine fellows at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles who in 2010, awarded it a Silver Medal.

Joseph Castan “Excellence” Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Pays d’Oc (red), France (Bt. 440 @ Big C Extra, Central Pattaya)

In 1907, Joseph Castan settled in the sleepy French hamlet of Lansargues, near the Mediterranean coast to cultivate his own vineyard. Over the years, the business thrived and expanded beyond expectation and today, Joseph Castan Fine Wines export to over fifteen countries and produce wines from both the Languedoc-Roussillon and the nearby Rhône Valley.

Made from grapes grown on the foothills of the Cévennes, this is a rich crimson colour and somehow you can sense that it’s going to taste good just by looking at it. The wine has a rather a classy rich and full aroma, but as so often happens you’ll need to give it time to open up. This is best achieved by tipping the lot (or however much you expect to drink) into a decanter. Although the aroma is quite complex, your first impressions will probably be of black berry fruit, a hint of pepper, citrus and spices.

The palate is fairly fruit-laden with black berries, black cherries and a touch of spiciness that reminds me of cinnamon. Although there’s a very soft mouth-feel, the wine is almost totally dry and the tannins are very soft indeed; just enough to add a bit of shape and firmness to the body. The finish is very dry too, with another satisfying layer of tannin and spiciness coming through.

On the other side of France, Cabernet Sauvignon is used for the red wines of Bordeaux, but these wines are rather serious in style. Whereas the classic Bordeaux might be a bit Laurence Olivier in style, this southern wine is more in the spirit of Roger Moore (he of James Bond fame). It’s elegant, suave and quite sophisticated with a touch of lightness. I think it’s aimed at a fairly wide audience, but I have to admit that it reminds me more of California than the Cévennes. This wine would work well with herb-flavoured dishes, lamb or pork. I tried it with a mild cheese quiche that I made, but it was a bit too assertive for the delicate flavour.  But never mind, it won a Gold Medal at the Concours des Vins de Brignoles 2012. The wine I mean, not my cheese quiche.