The Languedoc has long been regarded as the kid brother to the Rhône and the source for inexpensive wines. While it might not be as well-known as its bigger sibling, this region is stepping up its quality and focusing on doing some great things.
After much research in this vinous Wild West, Vinotas Selections has managed to find a few winemakers who are really doing interesting work. We think you’ll agree.
The Clos Bagatelle domaine has been run by the same family since 1623, when their ancestors bought plots of land in and around the town of Saint-Chinian. Today, they farm 60 hectares (148.31 acres) of vineyards, whose soils are a combination of shist, limestone and clay, at an average altitude of 120 meters (396 feet). They treat their vines with the utmost care, using sustainable agriculture methods, and harvest everything manually.
These days, the winery consists of a brother-sister winemaking team. He tends the vines, she makes the wines, and the two fight like cats and dogs. But this tension helps create some really magical wines.
They are really special and well-made, never too ripe or over the top but well-balanced by their fruit and their acidity. With cool nights and warm days, balance is almost a natural conclusion. What results are wines that are not just traditional but offer a certain sense of place and time that is defined by the term terroir.
Their basic bottling, the Clos Bagatelle Cuvée A L’Origine, is a blend of Grenache (40%), Syrah (20%), Carignan (20%), Mourvèdre (10%) and depending on the year, sometimes Cinsault (10%). The nose offers dark fruits and berries with hints of garrigue, which follow through on the palate on a lovely frame that is well-structured and refreshing.
The Clos Bagatelle Jardin de Bagatelle is an assemblage of Grenache (40%), Carignan (30%), and Syrah (30%) and comes from a single old-vine (50+ years) vineyard planted to a mountaintop surrounded by old pine forests. Much more Rhône-like than its sibling, this offers dark berries with game, meat and olive notes.
Domaine des Sauvaire-Reilhe
The Sauvaire family has been working the land around Crespian, in the Languedoc, since the mid-1600s. The winery’s buildings date from back then, and are still in use. Its 25 hectares (61.77 acres) of vines, planted to traditional Southern varieties, are scattered on a plateau with lots of small boulders and stones, and thus mainly poor, sandstone soils. This forces the vines to work extra hard to find nutrients.
Hervé Sauvaire works the land here using ancestral methods, with no pesticides or chemicals. He believes in letting the vineyard work in conjunction with the land around it to find balance on its own, without man’s help. What little assistance he provides is in the form of compost made from the marc of his grapes. At harvest, everything is manually harvested.
This philosophy follows through in the winery, where he takes an almost “hands-off” approach. Indigenous yeasts are allowed to take over all fermentation duties, and the wines are allowed to sit in steel and cement tanks, with absolutely no oak treatment: this allows the purity of the terroir to shine through. Wines are then bottled after 2-3 years in tank.
Herve poured me the Mas Sauvaire Rouge at lunch one day, and it was light but deep, with gorgeous purity of red fruit that was buttressed by some bright acidity and a shockingly long finish. This comes from some of his middle-aged vineyards, a blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. When I asked what this was, he told me it was their house red that they only sold to family, friends and local establishments. Right there and then, I told him I wanted some, and the rest is history.