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Languedoc Wines: Big Values at Small Cost

March 9th, 2020 · 2 Comments · France, Languedoc, Wine

A reader asked for information about the experience of finding and consuming the often-quite economical wines of the Languedoc region of southern France.

In theory, I should be an expert, after four-plus years based among the rolling hills and vineyards in this part of Occitanie, but that would be an error. I like wine well enough but I am no expert.

So, we turn over the following entry to the house wine expert, Leah. Cheers! Paul

Leah writes …

The terroirs of Paso Robles and the Languedoc region in the south of France are nearly identical, but the experience of consuming each region’s wine is quite distinct.

Tasting here is more low-key than it is in California, in my experience. It doesn’t cost anything, and you only need an appointment to taste if you are going to a small winemaker.

Most vignerons are very accommodating. The small local wineries here are often mom-and-pop operations, but collectively they are the spine of the local economy.

At nearly every public event, wine is present. The mayor has a town-hall meeting? Wine will be served. Winemakers with the local town’s name on it having a tasting? Free. A festival celebrating the oyster industry, or the onion industry? There will be wine available, and at a cost of no more than 2 euros a glass, sometimes less.

Wineries run by expatriates, or those who cater to expats and tourists, usually have an English-speaker on the premises and are happy to share their knowledge and insight.

Consuming wine is not necessarily less (or more) pretentious here, but it’s more workaday, because the grape isn’t seen as a special-occasion kind of thing; it’s an every day-in-moderation kind of thing. The vast majority of local wineries, from my experience, cater to local taste and pocketbooks.

While a winery might have three ranges, even the top-end wines rarely cost more than 25 euros a bottle. We went to an oft-overlooked (locally) vineyard, Font des Orme, and their high-end wine, about 28 euros if I remember correctly, was really nice. But the winemaker explained that he didn’t sell much of it locally; it was too expensive for local tastes. He had to be content with his owner using that wine to impress his Parisian friends. He knew it wasn’t viable locally.

Expensive wine can surely be found, but that’s not the point of it. There is plenty of very good wine in the mid-range price, around 12-15 euros, that can compete easily with the Paso wines. That’s not to say the 6-8 euro wines aren’t drinkable. Many certainly are. We have some nice bottles — 2009 reserve — and paid less than 20 euros per bottle. One of the award-winning wines from this winery was about 12 euros and very good.

There are many methods for experiencing Languedoc wines: You can do a reasonably priced wine tour; go to the wine shops that sell at cave prices; attend wine fairs where 5 euros will get you a glass and three tastes; or wait for the really big wine fairs (Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux), where tickets are free if you know how to get them (or 8 euros otherwise) and you can taste wine from hundreds of purveyors.

I was shocked at the prices of the wine tastings in California and was told it was because of the tendency for visitors to stage bachelor/bachelorette and similar-type parties where the visitors intended to party, rather than buy.

Occasionally a winery here will be leery of that, especially if they think you are English. The pours in California are very small, but I think to make up for the price you get an awful lot of them. Personally, my palate is kind of shot by the eighth glass, even if I’m pouring out.

I noticed that because I was with serious wine buyers in California, and tasting fees were waived and pours were shared.

Here, the staff thinks nothing of giving you a second pour if you like something, and asking everyone present if they want their own glass. They will explain the conditions the wine is grown in, and the weather factors, just like the Californians do. But it feels more like a religion in California — they are trying to convert you to their wine lifestyle. Here, it’s already part of life. 

While in Paso Robles we were lucky to travel with family that likes wine, and knows about wine. And we had some very, very good bottles of wine. But the prices were astonishing.

Our everyday wine is good, but I don’t think it could compete with the Paso wines. Perhaps the wines of the nearby Cote du Rhone region, which is more developed, would be a fairer comparison.

Until about 15 years, or so ago, Languedoc wines had a (mostly deserved) bad reputation. Few people outside the region were interested in drinking local wine, and it wasn’t unusual to find it available by the jug. (Bring your own jerrycan.) But quality-wise, it is growing by leaps and bounds as modern vintners realize it does not cost all that much to be drinkable as well as inexpensive.

Much, although not all, the of the wine here is to enjoy today or tomorrow, not to hold on to for a few more years.

This list in Decanter magazine is by a locally based writer, and I find the wineries to be more on the high-end of things.

The same writer participated last month in a blind tasting of top Languedoc wines versus leading southern Rhone wines, with 13 journalists involved, including the blogger. Interestingly, one bottle she picked out for commendation is bottled in our town, population 700.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 BEN BOLCH // Mar 9, 2020 at 6:27 PM


    Another wine region I would like to visit. Sounds very friendly and accommodating, and I can’t get past the town-hall meeting accompanied by wine without chuckling.

    I like how wine is ingrained in everyday life there, nothing pretentious about it.

    I enjoyed reading about all of it.

  • 2 Doug // Apr 17, 2020 at 8:22 PM

    Trader Joe’s has a wine from this general area which is inexpensive and very pleasant.

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