Coteaux du Languedoc
In the Languedoc-Roussillon, the French concept of terroir is not as important as in other regions. Usually, the largest appellations in places like Alsace and Burgundy signify the lowest quality. But the Languedoc-Roussillon is a definite exception to this rule, with the gigantic Corbières probably the most reputable appellation in the region. The Coteaux du Languedoc appellation is similar.
At 20,700 acres, Coteaux du Languedoc is more than half the size of Corbières. Montpeyroux is the village in which most of the wines are produced, but since the appellation encompasses the many hills of the Languedoc region, there are plenty of others. Production has almost caught up to that of Corbières, with more than 81 bottles for every 100 that Corbières makes. In wine terms, this makes for around 4.5 million cases of annual production.
The wines are surprisingly varied, much more so than the predominantly red Corbières. Red wine is still a solid majority of bottles with 80% of production, but roughly 10% each for whites and rosés still translates to hundreds of thousands of cases. The reds are made from the same grapes as Corbières, but have more red fruit and game than dark fruit and herbs.
Nineteen eighty-five was a big year for the Languedoc, as two umbrella AOCs were created: Corbières and Coteaux du Languedoc. Millions of bottles from ambitious producers, who had previously had to label their wine under the low-quality vin de pays appellations, were allowed to upgrade to these appellations. The creation of these two helped the Languedoc out of its wine rut, and in the 21st century these appellations remain promising.
Climate and Viticulture
The ground appellations of the Languedoc tend to have schist soils, which contributes to the similarity in climate between the Languedoc and the Rhône. The vineyards of the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation, however, tend to be located on limestone hills. It is for this reason that Coteaux du Languedoc wines have such unique red fruit qualities.
Due to the colder weather on the hills, and less of a maritime influence, the wines are much more serious. They are also lower in alcohol. It is interesting that the same grapes, in the same general area, make such different wines depending on the altitude.
White grapes are essentially the same as in Corbières, but here they can make a much different wine with a nice acidic bite. Vermentino, known locally as Rollé, is one of the most common, and Marsanne and Roussanne can make a Rhône-like white from time to time. Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, and Picpoul Blanc are part of the supporting cast of white grapes.
Meanwhile, reds and rosés are mainly made up of five grapes: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsaut and Carignan. These are the same grapes as in the rest of the Languedoc-Roussillon, but in Coteaux du Languedoc they take on a much different character. In the cooler climate, the wines are less warm and wild, having more serious flavors of red berry fruit, game, and sometimes even a sharp, mineral tang. Full-bodied, and able to pair with big game, they are some of the most ageable reds in the Languedoc.
The inexpensive wines of the Coteaux du Languedoc almost always have character, as that's part of the magic of the Languedoc. As for true leaders of the appellation, we have selected eight standouts as our features.
- Domaine d'Aigueliere: The best of this domaine's Coteaux du Languedoc wines come from Montpeyroux, although the separate Grenat cuvée is an interesting red. The basic Montpeyroux is gamy and dark, quite ripe but deep and complex. Red fruit dominates the oaky but deep Tradition Boissé. The Côte Rousse is more cooked, more powerful, with chocolaty complexity and lots of potential for evolution, but it is surpassed by the ripe, almost sweet and buttered Côte Dorée, a spicy wine that combines intensity with sweetness in a unique way.
- Domaine d'Aupilhac: Look for the Montpeyroux here; with vibrant earthy fruit and very dark, gamy, earthy intensity, the wines are some of the most substantive in the appellation.
- Château de Cazeneuve: This château makes its wines from the Coteaux du Languedoc subregion of Pic St-Loup. There's even a ripe white wine and a rare rosé, but most of the offerings are red. Les Terres Rouges, Le Roc des Mates, Le Sang du Calvaire, and Les Calcaires are the common cuvées. All have red fruit and herb flavors with darker, gamy undertones, and can age well.
- Château de Lascaux: The basic styles are excellent here: the ripe, citrussy, mildly herbal Blanc, the rich, cherry-tinged rosé, and the silky but strong spicy-earth basic red wine. All are terrific values at under $15. From Pic St-Loup the Nobles Pierres is more ripe and sweet with a Bordeaux-like leathery character, but is more expensive than the similarly pedigreed basic wines.
- Château de la Négly: These wines are expensive but distinct. The entry-level Marine rosé is pleasantly silky and has good pink fruit flavors. Clos du Truffiers is a cuvée that varies significantly in quality, but at its best can have shockingly powerful and concentrated, ripe aromas of cooked meat, game, and chocolaty earth, with almost no fruit flavors at all. The basic La Clape has pleasant red fruit, with spicy nuances, while the La Côte cuvée is much more earthy. La Porte du Ciel Blanc is one of the best whites in the Languedoc, offering up sweet, generous flavors. But the red version, costing over $80, has amazingly heavy, thickly sweet flavors of cooked game, earthy chocolate, and a tinge of powdery fruit. Comparable to a good Rhône or even Bordeaux, this wine flouts regional convention.
- Domaine Peyre Rosé: These light but unique wines are not rosés despite the confusing title. Cuvée "Les Cistes" is very dark and concentrated, with strong blackberry flavors, but its spicy, gamy Languedoc qualities should emerge with aging. The playfully named cuvée Syrah Leone is a great Syrah, with wild, explosively powerful fruit and leathery game qualities.
- Domaine de Poujol: These wines can be found for under $10, but are undervalued, revealing surprisingly powerful and characterful red fruit flavors. The red is great, but the rosé edges it on complexity despite a smoother texture.
- Prieuré de St-Jean de Bebian: This house deserves a mention just for its white wine, which has candied, highly exotic notes of ripe tropical fruit and honey. A few cuvées of red are made, but the dark, peppery basic wine is the most notable, with good flavors and an intense but smooth mouthfeel. These wines will become completely approachable with age, showing classic Coteaux du Languedoc gamy essence.
There are eight terroirs in the Coteaux du Languedoc. In Burgundy this would be a small amount, but in the Languedoc the eight appellations do a good job of dividing and distinguishing the wines. Note: Coteaux du Languedoc no longer includes Faugères AOC, which has in fact been split off from its original appellation.
- La Clape: Although there are good wines from Domaine d'Aupilhac, La Clape is most known for its wines from Château de la Negly, including award-winning cuvée Porte du Ciel.
- Grès de Montpellier: Including the major village of St-Georges d'Orques, this is a good spot for many wines including those from Domaine Clavel.
- Pic St-Loup: By far the most well-known subappellation of the Coteaux du Languedoc, this one really deserves to be its own region; however, it is doing perfectly well underneath Coteaux du Languedoc.
- Picpoul de Pinet: These are some of the cheapest AOC wines in the Languedoc, often costing under $10; there are even several three-liter boxes of wine. However, the area shows viticultural promise and a few rated wines are emerging.
- Terrasses de Béziers
- Terrasses du Larzac: Although virtually unknown for its own name, this terroir includes the great wines of Montpeyroux. The Montpeyroux wines are dark and gamy, with spicy cooked fruit and amazing character. Top producers include Domaines d'Aigueliere and d'Aupilhac, but there are many good wines to be found here.
- Terres de Sommières