Why you want to drink a Carignan-Grenache Noir-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend in summer

Char-grilled meat, anyone? Steak, of course, chicken too. Heck, meaty eggplant or portobellos also work. As long as there’s that crusty char—and bonus points for a sharp, spicy sauce or marinade—then you have what, in my opinion, makes a great summer-time pairing with a rustic red from southern France.

“Received wisdom” designates whites and rosés as the default warm-weather wines. But, with some foods, only earthy reds will do.

Furthermore, if you’re like me, and savoring memories and/or wishes of a past or future trip to Languedoc-Roussillon, then you’re looking to discover good values from this region in any season.

I was sharing some experiences from a recent trip to the area when I last posted here. (An unexpected death in my family followed by a period of general discombobulation knocked me off my blog-writing routine in recent months.) Since then, I continued exploring the region, viticulturally, so it’s worth giving a shout-out to a few wines I’ve especially liked.

39 - Grand Guilhem Fitou 2

Here is one: Domaine Grand Guilhem Fitou. I tried the 2008 vintage ($18 from Sherry-Lehmann), a 47% Grenache Noir-40% Carignan-10% Syrah-3% Mourvèdre blend. Its intensity could be fading, so I’d look for a later vintage next time for comparison. The wine has a sharp nose, stony and mossy, giving an impression of entering an underground cellar.

But don’t let the nose deter you. While the finish wasn’t long, on the palate the wine is at once smoky, pruney and vegetal, depending on whether and how long it is decanted.

For me, knowing something about the winemakers enhances my  appreciation of the product. Domain owners and winemakers Severine and Gilles Contrepois secured organic designation in 2004 for their 25 acres of vineyards. The property sits in Fitou, an oddly bifurcated (into two non-continuguous areas) appellation of Languedoc between Perpignan and Narbonne, near the village of Cascatel.

39 - Domaine Grand Guilhem Fitou 1

I’d love to try Grand Guilhem’s other wines (Corbières white and rosé, and three vins doux), but they’re hard to find in the U.S.

There is a solution, however: pay a visit and stay a night or two. (The Contrepois double as innkeepers, with two guesthouses and four guest rooms in the vintage-19th century main house.)

Languedoc-Roussillon: wine identity under construction

When you order a glass or open a bottle of wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, what should you expect from the drinking experience?

That’s a question I’m still trying to answer, following a whirlwind trip through the region. I’m having trouble summarizing the qualities of the various local wines—whites, rosés and reds—I sampled there.

38 - Domaine Ollier Taillefer Allegro

In general, they seemed good values. Purchasing locally, you can pay as little as €5 to €8 a bottle for decent everyday-drinking wines; the highest price we paid (it was in a restaurant) was €23 for a half-bottle of Domaine Ollier Taillefer “Allegro” 2011, a nice white from Faugères. (BTW, another “in general” rule for the region is: stay away from its whites. And I agree, in general, because the Rousanne-Marsanne blends that are common here are not acidic and crisp the way I prefer my whites. In this case, however, the Allegro—a Rolle (aka Vermentino)-Roussanne blend—had enough minerality to satisfy my palate.)

Another sweeping statement you can safely make about these wines is they rely on grapes that do well in warmer climates; not a Pinot Noir vine in sight.

Beyond that, thanks to a diversity of vineyard altitudes and microclimates, grape varietals and blend combinations, and levels of quality, the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon—one of France’s 27 regions and a southernmost one—need more finely-grained parsing to try to figure them out.

Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson do just that: in their World Atlas of Wine they subdivide the region into thirds: western and eastern Languedoc and Roussillon. A bit of shorthand to help in understanding the wines from these sub-regions:

Eastern Languedoc – appellations include (but are not limited to) Faugères, Coteaux de Languedoc, Costières de Nîmes; mostly reds, may remind you of southern Rhône or Provençal reds; grapes include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre.

Western Languedoc – among its appellations, Corbières, Minervois, Limoux, Fitou; reds from the northern part can be Bordeaux-like while those made farther south (e.g., Corbières) are typically rougher; varietals grown include Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and now even Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Roussillon – primary appellations Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages; Carignan the traditional red grape here but Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault now common as well; some decent whites made here, from grape varieties including Malvoisie, Maccabeu, Roussanne, Marsanne and Rolle; also known for its sweet wines, Vins Doux Naturels (VDNs), including Muscat.

I’ll have more to say about the Languedoc-Roussillon wines I drank there and what I thought about them; stay tuned.