Languedoc offers the opportunity for wine drinkers to explore an ancient region with a 2000 year history of producing exceptional wine. This history and pedigree fell out of popularity in favor of others like Bordeaux and Burgundy but pioneers such as Jean-Claude Mas are driving a revival. The upshot is, wines from the Languedoc are exceptional value and are widely available, no more so than Domaine Paul Mas, the umbrella name that Jean-Claude markets his wine under.
Jean-Claude Mas is a character without doubt, he is not loud or brash, but you can feel his confidence and forcefulness, understanding why he has built one of the largest Domaine in the Languedoc. He is colorful, entertaining but also clearly, very driven, yet he can't take himself too seriously with one of his labels called "The Arrogant Frog".
All this made it a pleasure to meet at a dinner in London and where he announced we would taste fifteen of his wines! It was a whirlwind affair but I got a wide introduction to his work and I was very pleasantly surprised indeed, not having been familiar with his wine previously.
He didn't have a traditional journey to winemaking, studying economics and advertising in university. Only in 1990 did he start to work in the wine industry, in Bordeaux. Now he produces the largest range of wines in Languedoc and is on a mission to return the region to rightful prominence, reflecting some of the glory of its 2000 year history of producing wine.
Giorgio Grai, a famous Italian winemaker taught Jean-Claude the art of wine blending, something he has never forgotten and is a theme you will see in many of his releases.
Jean-Claude makes a wine for everybody, from simple well priced whites easily enjoyed on a Summer's day to deep penetrating reds for when you want something more contemplative. In between there are entertaining sparkling wines that won't break the bank but compete with Champagne and even some sparkling reds for those adventurous days.
Below are some of the wine I tasted and would personally recommend.
Paul Mas "Vinus" Clairette du Languedoc 2016
A white 100% Clairette, which is the historical staple white grape of the Languedoc region, with a history going back 2000 years. This one is from the Hérault Valley about 10km West of Montpellier. If you want to treat yourself to a break from the endless similar white grapes on the supermarket shelves, this is where to go.
Gently nose that introduces a unique palate, every so slightly tart in a really nice way, it has a backbone of licorice with light gently florals built around it. A simple perfect aperitif wine with character. This is exceptional value.
Type: Still White
Buy Now from Morrisions
Paul Mas Chateau Martinolles Limoux 2015
Loved this! A really excellent white from Limoux, near Toulouse, not a region I would know well at all. This Chardonnay is from old vines. It has a relaxed fragrant nose of flowers and buttery nuts. Take a sip and it has fabulous mouth feel, subtle oak and is earthy with light minerality. While quite pointed, it is in a great way and isn’t to angular. It has a finish that beguiles. Easy repeat.
Type: Still White
Buy now from Soho Wine Supply
Paul Mas Le Berceau Blanc de Blancs Brut
A blend of Piquepoul and Chardonnay, this Blanc de Blanc sparkling white is exceptional value at £10, it is in Prosecco territory but is a league well above that. Labelled Brut so it is not too sweet and has a lovely austerity complimented by the Piquepoul, which adds a lovely aspect, a great choice of blend. Lightly bubbled, fresh and clean cut.
The nose has presence and offers mild nuts and brioche, with a hint of salinity, all combining together to engage the senses. The palate had a layer of sweetness and combined with lively acidity, it is perfect on a warm day. There are delicate tannins which give it a serious face, with plenty of fruit to keep it on track.
Type: Sparkling White
Buy now from Majestic
Paul Mas Estelia Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
The beauty of red wine made to drink young is when you pop it open and it delivers immediately, and that is the case with this vibrant Cabernet Sauvignon. Pour it into the glass for an alluring red violet hue. It exudes a deep rounded nose of vanilla and black fruit, with blueberry waves that move through it in the background. This is a well balanced wine, the tannins that are present generate wonderful mouthfeel , lingering very well and providing great impact.
Type: Still Red
Buy Now at Cheers Wine Merchants
Paul Mas Coteaux Du Languedoc Clos Des Mures 2014
A classical French blench, this is a GSM and so contains Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, blended to provide a typical warm, earthy comforting style of red. This one has light elegant red fruit, cherry, blackcurrant and some coffee. It does it's job well with a full palate that is relaxed, homely and tasty.
The epitome of value for money.
Type: Still Red
Buy Now from Cheers Wine Merchants
Paul Mas Cuvee Secrete Pinot Noir 2014
Time to stand out and be brave! Sparkling Red! - This sparkling red was the natural first choice, unique, unexpected, challenging, charming and perfect when you want something just a little different, just like Jean-Claude.
It has medium nose of distant red fruit, quiet complex which will keep you focused on this excellent wine.
Upfront the acidity makes it mouth watering and delicious and then complimentary fine tannins gently caress the tongue. This is bone dry as it should be, as it is made from Pinot Noir, but all the better for it, the difference to white sparkling is you can taste the typical earthy Pinot Noir red in the finish
Type: Sparkling Red
Buy Now from Soho Wine Supply
If you haven't heard about the rapidly growing prowess of English Sparkling wine, then you've must have either woken up from a coma or been undercover in North Korea. Tastings and competitions all over the world are consistently affirming the world-beating reputation of our traditional method sparklers. Particularly examples from South East chalky sites where producers have accomplished winemakers at the helm.
However, this feature is aimed at sharing some of the more quirky discoveries to be found in these lands. There are forward-thinking producers all over the country striving to achieve great wines from little-known varieties. As the below graphic from @winestats shows, after discounting Chardonnay and the Pinot's (main sparkling varieties) we have an eclectic selection of varieties planted.
So read on to find out about Orange Bacchus, Pinot Precoce, Mad Ange (who is a lot more pleasant than she sounds) and other distinctly different misfits.
So Bacchus isn't a rarity in England, many believe it has the potential to be the leading still white variety. It's a Germanic variety which is a cross of Silvaner, Riesling and Muller-Thurgai. It's quite often (lazily) compared to Sauvignon Blanc due to its citrus hit and high acidity. I find it to have more elderflower and a different minerality to Sauvignon Blanc. What makes this bottle a rarity is the fact it's an Orange wine. So it's has been fermented and matured with skin contact.
I'm not an avid Orange lover, but when I saw Kent giant Chapel Down were releasing England's first orange wine, I had to try it. I admire what Josh Donaghay-Spire does in the winery there; I spoke to him about this wine and he told me he was "trying to push the style of the wine to see what is was capable of". And the result is certainly abstract. It's wonderfully textured and really challenges the palate. Complex flavour notes including wet hay and spiced nuts, but it does manage to hold on to a touch of citrus freshness. It's well worth trying, especially if you're into natural wines.
Wine: Orange Bacchus
Winery: Chapel Down
Buy Now: https://www.chapeldown.com/news/introducing-englands-first-orange-wine-chapel-down-orange-bacchus-2014/
Pinot Noir also isn't a rarity in England. However, there are a handful of producers who are vinifying Pinot Noir as a white wine by slow pressing and avoiding any skin maceration. I believe it's a compelling and unique variety that England could lay a claim to.
The Mount, Albourne, Kingscote and Martin's Lane all produce great examples, but it's Litmus that excites me the most. I've tried the last three vintages and found them all to be slightly different expressions. For me, the 2012 was at it's blinding best and probably the finest English still wine I've drunk. I couldn't get over how much it tasted like a (white) Burgundy. Big, rich wine full of melon, pear, orange blossom and roasted almonds. The generous oaking envelops everything in smoke and brings a lean, chiselled body.
Wine: White Pinot
Buy Now: http://www.marksandspencer.com/litmus-white-pinot-case-of-6/p/p60070338
Madeleine Angevine is a curious but altogether beautiful variety. It has parentage tying it to the Loire Valley. Originally planted in England in the 50's, today there's a concentration in the South West all the way down to the tip of Cornwall.
Shout out to my wine buddy John Mobbs over at @GreatBritWine for introducing me to 10 Mad Ange's recently. I found Danebury to be the most satisfying and multi-dimensional. Danebury are situated in the exciting wine hotbed of Hampshire and they're passionate about Mad Ange. To drink, it's as refreshing as rolling in a meadow, with charming floral qualities, a suggestion of kiwi fruit tropicality and a crunchy mineral-rich finish. They also produce a sparkling version worth looking out for.
Wine: Madeleine Angevine
Buy Now: http://www.danebury.com/wine-sale.shtml
Pinot Noir Precoce
It's Pinot, but not as you know it. Pinot Noir Precoce (french word, translation; early) is a mutation of it's world-renown Burgundian parent. It's an early ripening variety which is ordinarily known for its nimble and fresh qualities. It grows really well in the cooler counties of England where normal Pinot Noir may struggle.
This Sharpham Black Label is a beast of a wine. Deeper and more complex than typical Precoce, and as good as any English Pinot I've tasted. It brings a bold hit of black fruit with vanilla, herbal notes, dock leaf and desert dust. There's a distinct woody note in the finish that I liken to oaky vintage cider. It's charismatic, quirky and masculine. There's not many English Red's I would pay more than £20 for, but this is one for sure.
Wine: Pinot Noir & Precoce
Buy Now: https://www.theexceptionalenglishwineco.com/wine/product/sharpham-pinot-noir-precoce-2013/
This curiosity is pronounced see-ger-ray-ba. A hybrid crossing of Madeleine Angevine (see above) and Gewurztraminer. It's another variety that performs well. It's got a wonderful dried floral quality and, when handled well, it can deliver great acidity. It performs at it's best when paired with right food. Ben Hawker (Assistant Winemaker at Three Choirs) ensures me it's brilliant with Sushi.
Three Choirs in Gloucestershire pride themselves on the quality and uniqueness of their Siegerrebe. It's the first to be harvested each year, then goes on to be used in this single varietal wine, as a component of their white blends and also as a dessert wine. The nose is awesome. Light violet perfume with grapefruit and nice waxy scents. I could sniff it all day. The attack retains intrigue and interest. The layered palate unfolds bringing a combination of floral, citrus and herbal. The finish has a nice lift and zing.
Wine: Siegerrebe Cellar Door Release
Winery: Three Choirs
Buy Now: https://www.three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk/shop/wine-list/english-white-wines/siegerrebe-2014/