The St-Chinian appellation, which is probably the most well-known and high-quality appellation in the Languedoc aside from Corbières, is famous for its powerful red wines, most of which are GSM blends. Inclusive of vineyards in 19 villages, the appellation centers around the titular St-Chinian, a large town of around nine square miles.
With a total of about 7,500 acres under vine, the large appellation produces roughly 1.4 million cases of wine each year. Only the Coteaux du Languedoc and Corbières have higher production. In St-Chinian, production is almost entirely red. According to advocates of the wines, they combine tannin and verve in a way rarely rivaled in other Languedoc-Roussillon regions.
Wine markets tend to favor the established over the new. So it comes as no surprise that St-Chinian, one of the most popular appellations of the region, is also one of the most historical. Ancient documents show that this region had a booming wine industry as early as the Middle Ages. Even in Roman times, basic wines were being produced and sold in the jugs fashionable at that time.
St-Chinian winemaking developed rapidly. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, the Canal du Midi was opened up, allowing ambitious producers of the region to export their wines to faraway lands. St-Chinian remained popular into the postmodern era, receiving AOC status in 1982.
Climate and Viticulture
St-Chinian's climate and viticulture might well be what makes it unique, and able to stay ahead of competition from all over the vast Languedoc region. Situated on hills predominantly composed of sandstone, with some limestone deposits, the vineyards face cool breezes coming off the sea, but generally enjoy warm weather.
The thickness and depth of the soil makes the wines Rhône-like in heaviness and richness. Deep and tannic, they can age as well as Corbières and to lovers of bold wines are the Languedoc's top example of this style.
Carignan, Cinsaut, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah are the typical grapes used in St-Chinian. Syrah is rather unpopular here compared to the other appellations, mainly used in small percentages. Grenache and Mourvèdre together make up 70% of the region's plantings. Varietal Carignan, which is catching on across the Languedoc, should probably be made legal here due to its exceptional power and soft texture. However, wine regulators have still not taken this step.
We list nine top producers of St-Chinian, all of which make reasonably affordable, commonly available wines that capture the spirit of the appellation.
- Borie La Vitarele: Generally high-quality juice, made from several different vineyards: Les Terres Blanches, Les Schistes, and Les Cres, in increasing order of expense. The wines are powerful with spicy red and black fruit, and are similar to Rhône wines but with that warm touch of the Languedoc.
- Canet-Valette: There are three different cuvées made by this producer, generally costing between $10 and $25. The basic St-Chinian is quite good itself, with complex but smooth red fruit and spice flavors. The Le Vin Maghani is more ripe, thick and concentrated, almost a liqueur of gamy, chocolaty fruit. The Une et Mille Nuits is darker and less sweet, with a long, powerful finish.
- Domaine des Jougla: A solid producer that makes one of the few St-Chinian rosés. The ripe but strong red wines are labeled either Cuvée Ancestrale or Cuvée Classique.
- Mas Champart: The basic St-Chinian is good here, but higher quality can be found in the Causse de Bousquet and Clos de la Simonette cuvées. The former offers 90+ ratings for $20, a rarity in the Languedoc, with the kind of deeply concentrated, intense black fruit flavors one would be more likely to find in Bordeaux. The second is more expensive but can be of even higher quality. A fine rosé is also made.
- Domaine Guy Moulinier: Two cuvées are common here: Les Sigillaires and Terrasses Grillées. The former has smoky, ripe but dark red fruit notes. The latter is more complex, with cooked, dense aromas of game and earth.
- Domaine Navarre: Look for the Cuvée Olivier here, which has dark, surprisingly rich gamy aromas. This wine's unusual flavors are due to its high percentage usage of Carignan. This is the top wine of the bunch, but the Le Laouzil cuvée also has a good reputation.
- Domaine Rimbert: The basic St-Chinian here is quite good, but two cuvées surpass it in quality. The Les Mas au Schiste obviously alludes in name to the high amount of schist found in the soil, and is dark and powerful like most wines made from this kind of dirt. Les Travers de Marceauis is another high-quality cuvée here.
- Cave de Roquebrun: Often costing under $15, these affordable St-Chinians offer the reliably high quality of much pricier wines.
- Domaine du Tabatau: All of the wines here are good, particularly the rosé, but this house is mostly known for its high-quality Lo Tabataire cuvée. If you can find it, this wine offers excellent depth of fruit and Rhône-like power.
Unlike the Corbières appellation, which is subdivided into 11 distinct terroirs, St-Chinian has no major subregions.