Wine tourism in the Languedoc has been relatively undeveloped until fairly recently, but things are gradually changing, says Rosemary George MW, who picks her top wineries to visit...
Some cellars are more organised than others about receiving visitors, but a phone call or email beforehand never goes amiss. Also avoid the sacrosanct hours of the déjeuner, between noon and 2 p.m., or maybe later in the height of summer.
The variety of wines and terroirs within relatively easy reach of Montpellier is considerable, so there is plenty to choose from. The dramatic skyline of the Pic Saint-Loup and the Montagne de l’Hortus dominate the landscape to the north of the city, and further west Mont Saint-Baudile looks down on the vineyards of Montpeyroux. The vineyards around the picturesque town of Pézenas with its historic associations with Moliere are growing in quality. And just north of Pézenas are the vineyards of Faugères, one of the earlier appellations of the Languedoc, with stylish wines based on schist. Also close to Pézenas is one of the more individual IGP of the Languedoc, the Côtes de Thongue, with an eclectic mixture of grape varieties. The massif of La Clape is a little further away, outside the city of Narbonne, with yet more dramatic scenery contrasting with the seascape of the Mediterranean. And white wine is becoming increasingly important in the region, typified by the growing popularity of Picpoul de Pinet.
Top 10 Languedoc wineries to visit
Domaine de l’Hortus
One of the pioneering estates of the Pic Saint-Loup. Jean Orliac looked down on his future vineyards while rock climbing on the Montagne de l’Hortus as a university student. Red Pic Saint-Loup, Bergerie de l’Hortus and oaked aged Grande Cuvée are based on Syrah, and two whites are IGP Val de Montferrand. The family also have vineyards in the more northern area of the Terrasses du Larzac, at Clos du Prieur. www.domaine-hortus.fr
Prieuré de St. Jean de Bébian
The reputation of St. Jean de Bébian was made in the 1980s by the maverick wine grower Alain Roux, who claimed his vineyards have the same soil as Châteauneuf-du-Pape and accordingly planted the thirteen grape varieties of that appellation. These days the estate is owned by a Russian family, who are investing seriously in their property, including a brand new cellar and tasting room equipped with an oenomatic and the wines are made by the talented Australian, Karen Turner. www.bebian.com
Peter and Deborah Core learnt their winemaking in New Zealand and decided to return to Europe and buy vineyards in the Languedoc. They made their first wine here in 2006, since then their range has developed to include not only a delicious Pézenas, Clos des Lièvres, but also a Carignan Noir, Trois Terrasses, and an unusual Carignan Blanc, Clos des Papillons.
During June, July and August they are open for tastings between 2pm – 6pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday, without a prior appointment, but at any other time, please ring first: 04 67 31 20 95. www.mas-gabriel.co.uk
Faugères is one of my favourite appellations in the whole of the Languedoc so it was exceedingly difficult to select just one grower amongst the fifty or so in the area. Alain Ollier was one of the first to bottle Faugères in 1976 and these days it is his children, Luc and Françoise who run the estate. Françoise will give you a friendly and opinionated tasting in their welcoming tasting caveau in the little village of Fos, with three red Faugères, les Collines, Grande Réserve and Castel Fossibus, as well a distinctive white, Allegro. www.olliertaillefer.com
Domaine La Croix Belle
This is one of the largest estates of the Côtes de Thongue and the property of the Boyer family. Jacques Boyer produces a wide range of wines, from easy drinking Champs du Coq and a varietal Syrah, to serious oak-aged No. 7, so called for the seven grape varieties in the blend. Cascaillou is Grenache based, and Soulenque a delicious late harvest white. From their tasting caveau you can admire the traditional large foudres of the Languedoc, which are no longer used. www.croix-belle.com
Château Camplazens in La Clape has been developed by Susan and Peter Close, as a second career, and they have the objective energy of many of the ‘outsiders’ who come to the Languedoc. Their first vintage was 2001 and they make a range of several different La Clape, as well some varietal wines. One of the key attractions of a visit to Camplazens is to admire Simon Fletcher’s murals in the tasting room and barrel cellar. Simon is a local artist, but if you know about watercolours, you will also know that he has an international reputation. A tower with a 360⁰ view completes the tasting area. www.camplazens.com
Château de l’Engarran
Château de l’Engarran is a charming property on the outskirts of Montpellier, with a romantic past and some beautiful stylised gardens, with statues and urns. The principal appellation is Saint-Georges-d’Orques for their top wine, Quetton de Saint-Georges, as well Grès de Montpellier and some varietal wines, both red and white. Two sisters run the estate these days; Diane Losfelt makes the wine and Constance Rerolle sells it.
Château de Flaugergues
This estate, almost within the city boundary of Montpellier, features in the green Michelin guide and the 17th château is the property of de Colbert family. Jean-Baptiste Colbert was a minister under Louis XIV. There are also some elegant gardens to admire, and a range of wines to taste covering Grès de Montpellier, Méjanelle and plain Languedoc, not to mention a restaurant serving seasonal dishes. www.flaugergues.com
The attractive village of Montpeyroux, which is part of the Terrasses du Larzac, has grown enormously in importance and now boasts nearly 20 good growers, as well as a competent cooperative. So it was another difficult choice, to opt for Villa Dondona, the estate of English Jo Lynch and Frenchman André Suquet. As well as Montpeyroux, they make a delicious Mourvèdre and an elegant white wine, Espérel. Jo is also a talented artist and has designed all her labels. www.domaine.villadondona.com
Château St. Martin de la Garrigue
This estate outside the village of Montagnac produces some of the best Picpoul de Pinet – the firm, salty white wine that accompanies the local oysters so well. The estate has changed owners and winemakers recently, but the quality of the Picpoul remains the same. In addition they make various red wines; Grès de Montpellier and Bronzinelle, Coteaux du Languedoc. www.stmartingarrigue.com