Blog: Laura Heywood uncovers organic treats from Languedoc-Roussillon
With its rate of conversion to organic viticulture up 30% over the last three years, the Languedoc-Roussillon has lofty aims to become the largest organic vineyard area in Europe within five years.
The region boasts the largest organically farmed vineyard area in France, with 16,462ha farmed organically - up 30% in 2010 - and 2,200 organic estates.
The region's soil quality and climate, which is predominantly dry, means that producers are able to avoid using synthetic chemicals. A deliberate lowering of yields has also accelerated this trend towards organic viticulture and resulted in an increase of natural products and methods being employed to support the ecosystem.
But despite their green credentials, can the wines compete in quality terms against others in the competitive UK market? I headed to Sud de France's London headquarters to find out.
The wines on show were organic, or in some cases both organic and biodynamic, and the majority of producers were hunting for representation in the UK. So it was vital the wines being showcased had what it takes to stand up to similarly priced New and Old World rivals. Wanting to see specifically how the region's reds performed when made organically, I made a beeline for them.
First up was Grand Guilheim Les 4 Nins 2006 from AOC Fitou - a Grenache/Carignan/Syrah/Mourvèdre blend with a fragrant nose tinged with violets and a smooth suppleness in the mouth that rounded off into spice.
Pesquies 2010 from VDP des Pyrénées-Orientales is a 100% Grenache made from the 7ha family-estate Domaine Jorel. Although the nose was closed, the palate oozed spicy, berry notes and was a perfect example of young Grenache that has seen minimal intervention. This is Grenache as its purest and classiest.
Hegarty Chamans No1 2005 from AOC Minervois was a fresh, cherry packed Syrah/Carignan blend that would lend itself to a rich dark chocolate dessert. Full of elegance and oomph.
"Organic is good but biodynamic is better," according to Nicolas Gaignon, who was showing Regal du Loup 2009 AOC Minervois from Vignoble du Loup Blanc's 16ha estate. The Carignan/Grenache/Syrah blend was smooth and rounded, with soft bramby fruits, a moreish white pepper character and good acidic balance.
Domaine du Traginer Cuvee Vieillie Foudre 2007 AOC Collioure had a surprisingly appetizing mix of sweet and sour notes that mellowed in a long finish.
For me Domaine Martinolle Syrah 2010 from AOC Corbières stood head and shoulders above the rest. A dream for those with a sweet tooth that dislike meaty reds, this wine tasted like Eton Mess with fresh, ripe strawberries, an abundance of cream and the sweet vanilla notes of meringue. Incredibly moreish.
A final wine worthy of mention (that doesn't fit in the red wine theme of this blog) was Domaine Monplezy Plaisirs Rosè 2011 from AOC Coteaux du Languedoc. Bottled just the day before the tasting, this pretty, pale pink rosè was showing incredible promise with pure, untainted sweetness, pleasing acidity and good length.