Southern France, reds | Jancis Robinson

Southern France, reds by Tamlyn Currin

The third instalment of this report on current southern French wines. Tomorrow we publish the last instalment, on reds from producers G to Z. See also reviews of whites and pinks, fizz and sweet.

When I asked producers to send in their wines for a big Languedoc and Roussillon tasting, I made a slightly different request from the usual one to ‘send your latest vintages’. I asked them to send two to four wines that they thought fitted these categories: an everyday lunch wine; a dinner-with-friends wine; a special-occasion wine; and ‘an intellectual wine that requires thought and reflection’. Some did (some didn’t!). But the result was that I got to look at some wines that I wouldn’t normally taste. 

While around 65% of the red wines reviewed were from the 2018 and 2019 vintages, one of the huge treats was the chance to taste some older wines. It’s a mistaken assumption that Languedoc wines don’t age in the way that wines from Rhône, Bordeaux and Burgundy do. In fact, tasting some of these older vintages made me think that we might well be drinking some of these wines too young. Cendrillon’s 2008 showed how wonderfully those big Languedoc tannins resolved and how much beauty there is in the evolution of that fruit. Les Clos Perdus’ Mire la Mer 2013, La Dournie’s 2015, Colline de l’Hirondelle’s wines from 2014, 2015 and 2016, Prés-Lasses’ Castel Viel 2014 and Mas de l’Écriture’s 2013 and 2014 (the latter two in tomorrow’s article) all prove that the Languedoc, like any great terroir, can produce ageworthy wines.

As an aside, last year I was struck by the number of producers farming organically, and this year is no exception. More than 60% of the wines reviewed here are certified organic. Many more are Haute Valeur Environnementale or working organically without certification.

I was thrilled, too, to see how wines were proper Languedoc blends rather than international varieties. It’s based on the empirical evidence of just one observer but, certainly at the top end, there seems to be more and more of a movement towards wines that are authentically Languedoc, that reflect the unique terroir and character of each appellation. Saying that, however, it is interesting to see that at least 25 tasting notes in today’s and tomorrow’s articles are Vin de France. Are the rules too rigid, or is this a region that attracts rebels?

17 Famille Fabre, Château de Luc Veredus 2019 Corbières Full bottle 1,637 g. Certified Ecocert organic. Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Grenache. 20 days’ maceration, aged for 12 months in wood.
It puzzles me when organic producers do something so environmentally destructive as to bottle their wines in heavy glass. Surely this is the most ignorant, outdated way of telling consumers that your wine is ‘prestige’? Gorgeous mulberry-and-blackberry-jam nose. Smouldering with dark, sumptuously glossy black fruit in leather-trousers-tight tannins. Coal dust and mica. Night lily fragrance. And yet there is a freshness that tastes of rose hips and dill and raspberry-leaf perfume. Glamorous wine. Pity about the bottle. (TC) 14.5% Drink 2021 – 2027

Certified Ecocert organic. Cinsault and Syrah.
Ripe, cooked blackcurrant fruit. Dense and peppery and gamey. This is comfort wine! Plush-clad iron tannins but the fondue fruit is so headily ripe and rich and glossy that it swirls like a slick of black oil into purple ink. (TC) 14.5% Drink 2021–  2026

 16.5 Famille Fabre, Château de Luc 2018 Corbières

Certified Ecocert organic. Hand-picked Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah.
A little green and squashed-bug on the nose. Terse, wild blackcurrant and blackcurrant leaf, although more tapenade than fruit. Szechuan and green-peppercorn spiciness. This wine feels like a nervous wild animal that you’re trying to coax out of the brush into view. The fruit is sweet, but it keeps flashing out of view. Elderberries. Has character but needs food to anchor it. (TC) 14% Drink 20212024 €9.60 RRP 

16 Famille Fabre, Chimères 2008 Corbières-Boutenac

Full bottle 1,579 g.
NHB. Lovely evolved, mature nose: dried fruit and autumn leaves and roasted-beef savouriness. A wine that has gracefully melded into every corner and cranny of itself over the last 12 years. Gentle spices and tobacco leaf, ground chicory root and tamarind, prunes steeped in spicy tea. Aromatic flavours that reach long into the mouth and tendril twine themselves around the tongue. Genteel, subtly insistent, utterly charming. The spice builds on the finish, becoming more powerfully fragrant and dramatic and cooling. (TC) 14.5% Drink 2018 –2023