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.)

Vineyards, vineyards everywhere

Such is the landscape of Languedoc-Roussillon, from which I have just returned. It was my first, and a whirlwind, circuit of the southernmost part of this ever-more-booming French wine region.

Abbaie de Fontfroide vineyard, near Narbonne

Abbaie de Fontfroide vineyard, near Narbonne

The grapes had just been harvested the week or two before, one of the later harvests of recent memory, people told me, so what was on view to travelers like me and my trip companion Marsha as we whirred by on the well-maintained (no matter how remote and narrow) roads were the de-fruited vines, leaves turning to autumn-yellow and orange.

You read that Languedoc-Roussillon is the world’s largest wine region, with more than 700,000 acres under production, but it takes the physical experience of seeing its vineyards stretching to the horizon in all directions, across all terrains, flat and hilly, to comprehend this fact.

Such concentration of grape production is not necessarily a good thing, however, in terms of wine quality and price. The area’s historic high production of juice translated into wines that were not just thin; many were outright bad, France’s black-sheep wines. To address the downward price pressure Languedoc-Roussillon’s overproduction was exerting on European wines in general, E.U. incentives in recent years have prompted growers to rip out vines.

So the region’s wine-making practices have been changing: yields are down, the ratio of grapes to extracted juice has risen over the past decade. Younger winemakers are being drawn to the area, in some cases shunning AOC rules in order to experiment with grape varietals and production techniques.

Our circuit of the area extended up the coast from the Spanish border to Perpignan, straight north from there into Hérault, then meandering southwest through the Minervois and Corbières areas of Aude, to end in the lower reaches of Roussillon’s Pyrénées-Orientales  department. We drank a bit of white, rosé and red, and enjoyed several fabulous meals.

Stay tuned: more on my Languedoc-Roussillon experience in the days to come.