The Languedoc-Roussillon still has a bit of a name for being cheap – it’s France’s most important wine region in terms of quantity, with an extraordinary 299,000 hectares under vine (that’s three times the size of Bordeaux, also not exactly small), but you have to hunt for the quality.
There are increasing numbers of overperforming AOP regions – some of my favourites include Faugères, Saint Chinian & Minervois. The best wines from these villages pack the punch that you’d expect from this southerly part of France, but achieve elegance and finesse on top.
I was curious when I received three bottles from Carcassonne-based micro-negociant Calmel & Joseph. This isn’t a huge conglomerate pushing out oceans of dross, but rather a small business founded by oenologist Laurent Calmel and partner Jerome Joseph, who personally handle all the winemaking, and keep a high degree of control over their producer’s farming methods and harvest dates. Their branding is eye-catching, modern and rather lovely – but did that mean the wines would be any good?
I tasted two wines from the midpriced “Les terroirs” line, and one from the higher priced “Les Crus”. The Cotes du Roussillon Villages 2012 (£9.99 from Hennings wine merchants and many other suppliers)was the least refined, with a slightly gamey nose, solid structure and a blast of meditterean heat in its soul. Decent, if not outstanding.
My clear favourite was the * Saint Chinian 2012 (£9.95 from Rollings Wine or slightly more from other stockists)- a fruit driven, classy effort with real tension and super-smooth tannins. We paired this with a spicy beef rendang, and it held up beautifully – the acidity and generous red fruit easily cutting through the spices, and refreshing the palate. Seriously good value for money.
Terrasses du Larzac 2012 (£13.99 from Waitrose Cellar or £13.95 from Tom L’Anson wines) was more hefty, not suprising given the 50% Mourvedre in the blend. The savoury, spicy fruit has a lovely cassis note, but the oak seemed a little heavy on the finish. That’s a minor quibble, partly down to personal taste – this is a rich, complex wine, a lot of bang for buck at the price.
All three wines are great value, superbly drinkable efforts, easily achieving Calmel & Joseph’s mission for freshness and elegance, not for super-ripe, jammy or over extracted. Hurrah!
I do however have to take issue with the decidedly lame, if not downright bizarre statement in the philosophy section of their website: “Free wines, born out of transparency: Free of all certification labels, our viticultural and vinification practices are natural and environmentally friendly.” – that is some of the most pathetic greenwash I’ve heard for some time. I’m sure that Calmel & Joseph are not particularly evil, but please – don’t try to take a swipe at the dedication and devotion of organically and biodynamically certified growers, while trying to pretend you’re somehow more worthy.
This gripe aside, I’d be happy to have these wines on my dinner table any time – and not just because the labels look cool.
Disclaimer: Bottles were provided for review.