Going with the grain: success of oaked Chardonnay in Pays d’Oc | THE BUYER

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Going with the grain: success of oaked Chardonnay in Pays d’Oc

When Pays d’Oc Chardonnay shot to prominence in the 1990s, it owed much of its recognition to the New World producers, particularly in California, who had spearheaded the concept of varietal wines, taking the native French grape and infusing it with a new level of extroversion. Key to this was the role played by oak, which became closely associated with Chardonnay in the public imagination – and followed the grape back to Pays d’Oc as it rode the waves of international market trends.

mm By November 24, 2023

Dominic Rippon finds out how oaked Chardonnay has matured in France’s Pays d’Oc vineyard and selects his favourite IGP Pays d’Oc wooded Chardonnays from an impressive tasting of the 2022 vintage. 

As I wrote in my previous piece for The Buyer, Chardonnay still rules in France’s Pays d’Oc vineyard. Originally a Burgundian variety, it now produces over 600 000 hectolitres of IGP Pays d’Oc every year – making it by far the region’s most squeezed varietal white.

The Pays d’Oc vineyards cover the area of the Languedoc-Roussillon, stretching from the Spanish border all the way to the western fringes of Provence. The range of climatic influences, terroirs, and hence styles of Chardonnay are consequently vast, but oaked Chardonnay is such a distinctive product that it is almost a category in it own right, deserving a special focus.

Chardonnay’s unique affinity for oak has been well known for centuries and undoubtedly played a role in the variety’s ubiquitous adoption in its native Burgundy. But whereas the role of oak barrels in Burgundy has always been nuanced, allowing oxygenation, adding structure and contributing to wines’ ageing potential, the New World Chardonnays that spurred France’s Pays d’Oc renaissance put the emphasis squarely on flavour – bold, powerful flavours that came to play the leading role in many Chardonnays in Pays d’Oc and elsewhere.


“Grande Courtade” Chardonnay 2022, Famille Fabre, 13% – Organic

A bright golden Chardonnay from the Fabre family estate, in the heart of the Corbières area. 20% of the wine is aged on its lees in oak for 6 months. The nose is energetic and floral, with ripe lemons, pears and peaches – full of charm, it just wants you to take a sip! This theme continues on the palate, with generous flavours underpinned by a delicate buttery richness. An ideal partner for fish in a creamy citrus sauce.

RRP in UK £13.99. Available from: UK importer – Boutinot/Third Floor

IGP Pays d’Oc is a commercial partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here.

Historic black frost on 2021 April 8th

Chateaux Famille Fabre

Waking up on April 8th

On April 8th, after a short night on MetéoCiel, zapping between the 5 locations of Domaines Fabre, we woke up dazed. Sad morning, the road to the 2021 vintage will be long. Nothing to do against this historic frost in the vinyeard: temperatures have gone down to -6, negative as early as 2 am at the Courtade. Luc, Gasparets and Cruscades were close to -3 at 5 am, Rieux-Minervois was slightly spared around -1. The frosty areas along the riversides are as affected as the upper hills. Never before seen in the lives of winegrowers, over 2, even 3 generations. 80% loss. Hard to see the work of a vintage go so quickly, so early.

And now?

Let’s wait a few weeks before evaluating the volumes we will be able to harvest, this year more than ever with humility. It continues to be very cold for a month of April: 3 weeks to go before the last Ice Saint for the Languedoc: Saint Jean Porte Latine on the 6th of May, which coincides with the end of the Red Moon, and marks the end of the freezing period. We will then try to get help from more fortunate winegrowers than us, in order to satisfy our existing customers.

Global point

Terroirs frozen up to 350m of altitude, colossal losses, the Languedoc vineyards are particularly affected by the black frost episode of last week.
The map published by the Chamber of Agriculture of Languedoc sums up the situation well: on all the appellations, red dominates. A more or less dark color which underlines the extent of the disaster for many winegrowers. With the frost on the night of April 7, losses reached more than 80% in some sectors. Thus, in the Hérault, 100% of the wine growing areas (about 80,000 hectares) were frozen, with relatively preserved areas such as the Haut du Minervois, which was “only” 30% affected, while La Livinière was spared. An appellation that is considered privileged in the Languedoc.

On the other hand, in the Corbières, the situation is much darker.  This concerns both the IGP (protected geographical indications) and the AOC (controlled appellations of origin), which will pose a problem of quality because even the most beautiful terroirs are affected. A first in the region for some vineyards, which are not usually frosty: the preserved terroirs of altitude froze up to 350m, while the early grape varieties were particularly vulnerable, whatever the appellation.