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Recommendations: Top Wines from the Herault

March 11th, 2018 · No Comments · France

A challenge/request was registered on this site this week, and I concede it probably is time to make some recommendations on wines we like that come from this part of France.

One of the difficulties of doing this is making clear what geographical area this is.

It is not the Cote d’Azur; it is not Provence; it is not the Gard. All three of those areas are north and east of here, closer to Italy and the Alps. It is not part of the Aude or the Tarn, which are south and west of here.

So, where is “here”? It can be called Languedoc, in the most capacious old term. Or Occitanie, in the new capacious term.

But to get about as precise as we can, we will call the area Herault which, as can be seen on the map, is a fairly compact piece of land bordering the Mediterranean, from Montpellier in the east to Beziers in the south, and including in the north the first batch of hills that lead to France’s sprawling interior —  known as the Massif Central.

Enough geography.

Interest in the Herault area from, say, the English-speaking world, probably has a basis in wine, which is by far the biggest industry of the department — despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation for producing the least expensive wine in France.

We will proceed with two recommendations in each of these categories: white, rose and red, and add one dessert wine. These are local wines we drink that offer great value for money. At least when bought locally.

(Prices listed for each bottle reflect current dollar-euro exchange rates estimates.)

White

–Picpoul de Pinet, $5-6. The Picpoul grape is native to the region, centered on the town of Pinet and planted in very limited acreage, mostly in a narrow strip between the Herault River and the Mediterranean. Light and fresh, not too dry. Excellent with seafood and shellfish, particularly oysters. “Picpoul” translates as “lip stinger” — because it gives you a little warning as it enters your mouth.

–Domaine Saint-Hilaire Viognier-Vermentino. Another standout in the the local “Mediterranean whites” category. It can be dry or sweet and pairs well with grilled meat — or seafood and shellfish. Saint-Hilaire offers a B&B set-up and is known for a “tasting with tapas” (under the shade on the patio) that pairs five of its wines with small plates of food.

Rose

–Rose’ de Bessan ($5). Perhaps the best-known rose in the region, a product of a cooperative centered on the town of Bessan, located a few miles from the sea, and made of grenache and syrah grapes. Served chilled. Good with grilled meat, fish or just sipped on the patio. One of several outstanding roses in the area and considered semi-expensive locally. Its frosted-glass bottle make it easy to spot.

–Domaine de Nizas ($7). Available in the U.S., according to the friendly people at the domaine, which is located on a hill just outside the town of the same name. A grenache-syrah-cinsault blend. Darker and a bit heartier than the roses from Provence.

Reds

–Domaine des Abournieres ($7). Our house red. We call it “saxophone” because an artistic rendering of the musical instrument is on the label and “Abournieres” is a mouthful. Full-bodied, drinkable by itself, not too tannic. Works well with any meat. A former rugby pro named Philippe Gallart is the winemaker for the Roujan-based wine which, like nearly all local reds, is drunk young.

–Le Carignan Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de Nizas ($12). This one is 100 percent “old vines” carignan, a semi-rare grape that generally shows up as part of a blend. The 2015 Nizas vintage was a gold-medal winner last year at the Paris Agricultural Fair. Fruity, with a lot of body. Excellent with grilled meat. It is not the heaviest red around, but it is made to drink with food; not sipped out on the patio.

Dessert

–Clairette d’Adissan Le Moelleux ($10). The Clairette grape, one of the oldest in France, dominates cultivation in Adissan, a small town north of Beziers. This is the sweet version of the grape, which also can be presented in a sec style.

And remember: The Herault is covered by vines. A visitor could spend weeks here tasting his way through the region. A half-century ago (or less) the area was notorious for producing a sea of low-quality plonk but now is acknowledged to offer some of the great bargains in the world of wine.

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