Say the word “French” to any 10 Americans, and there will probably be 10 different responses. A history buff would reference the venerable, sometimes strained alliance dating back to the American Revolution. A wild-eyed war hawk would stomp and begin a tirade that starts with “cheese-eating….” A gourmand, meanwhile, would view the aforementioned cheese very differently.
Ask 10 different oenophiles about French wine, and the responses would still be similarly varied. But there would surely be unanimity in reverentially mentioning the regions Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne or, probably Rhône.
None of the above, however, can claim to be the single-biggest wine-producing region in the world. That designation goes to Languedoc-Roussillon (or, simply “Languedoc”). And yet, this southern French area might be to many connoisseurs what Kansas is to a New Yorker en route to San Francisco: flyover country.
But, as many producers of tried-and-true varietals from familiar regions endure the expenses of marketing and re-positioning wines to attract recalcitrant consumers, once-snubbed grapes and terroir are getting their due. Languedoc wines, especially the region’s red wines, might soon achieve the same esteem as those from the nearby Côtes-du-Rhône.
“Languedoc reds often have a dry, earthy and spicy element,” says Dean Schlabowske of Cellar Rat in Chicago’s Wicker Park. Schlabowske also notes the versatility of these “typically rustic” wines, and says they can be paired with grilled red meat and the more gamey varieties of poultry.
Reasonable prices and Millennial validation are puncturing the balloon of hot air that has hovered above the wine industry. Wine lovers read this column not only expecting relief for their beleaguered wallets, but a chance to find wines that once languished in obscurity. Besides, a chance to belittle the phrase, “You get what you pay for” couldn’t be more fun – bottle open, glass in hand.
The following are a couple of Languedoc offerings at metro-Chicago retail stores:
Domaine Castillon Costieres de Nimes 2007: Mostly Grenache and Carignan, it’s initially old-fashioned and earthy. But it also has an almost herbaceous element, and this aspect is foiled by a hint of fruit-forward sweetness. Try deep-frying a turkey (outside, if possible), with plenty of injected, savory seasonings; grilled quail would be less labor-intensive. $9.
M. Chapoutier “Les Vignes de Bila-Haut” Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2008: This is the brawniest wine of the bunch, which means it should probably be restricted to pairings with grilled/roasted red meat. The brooding dark cherry flavors build into a fleshy – but not flabby – crescendo of spicy, peppery tannins. Has a nice, slightly smoky finish. Big wine. $12.