Monday, 15 June 2009

Dry Whites - some favorites

In general the Languedoc is a red wine area as befits the climate. Most well known white grape varieties struggle to make dry whites that are anything other than heavy, flabby and lifeless. Grapes more suited to the chaleur – Rousanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Clairette to name a few, result in wines that are full bodied and aromatic; more herbal and grapefruit than the fresher, grassy, lemony mineral whites from further north. Relatively recently a new generation of wine makers have been planting or rejuvenating vineyards in the relatively cooler microclimates and at altitude. This goes some way towards simulating more northerly growing conditions. These are whites that we’ve enjoyed most and have been consistently fine.

Mas Julien Blanc. The blend varies over the years, but a touch of oak and usually some viognier make this vibrant and complex. Also ages well thanks to the balancing acidity. Not much is made and it’s always been sought after. Les Clapas Blanc Domaine Le Pas de l'Escalette Carignan blanc and Terret Bourret. Rescued vines at a heady 350m on steep limestone scree right under the Larzac plateau produce a flinty mineral white that’s impossible to place in the Languedoc. First vintage was 2003.

Mas Brunet Blanc Causse de la Selle. A causse is a limestone plateau and this one is over 200m above the gorges of the Herault. A delicious blend of Roussanne, Vermentino and Viognier that has flavours dancing around the mouth. A good value alternative to Les Clapas. “Les Aires” Domaine de Clovallon is a 100% Viognier made in the slightly fresher climate at Bedariux on the river Orb. In its more successful years it competes with the best Condrieu has to offer yielding plenty of the elusive apricot and peaches factor. The Pic St Loup area north of Montpellier is cool and wet for the region. Two whites have been consistent over the years.

Manon Clos Marie from Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Maccabeu, Carignan Blance and Clairette has subtle tropical fruit tones while

Les Mûriers Mas Bruguière is a fine example using the more aromatic Marsanne (80%) and Roussanne varieties which pulls off zippy citrus flavours.

Domaine de Bridau Picpoul de Pinet. Picpoul is the region's Muscadet. Relatively light, easy to drink, and ideal with shellfish and seafood. Domaine Bridau make a brilliant everyday wine at a miracle less than 4 € a bottle. Unlike most Picpoul, the vineyards are in the hilly garrigue behind Montagnac which gives what can be a fairly low key neutral style of wine a hint of fresh aromatic herbs. Hard to source although easy to buy from the property.

Muscat sec is another good buy (around 5 €) for a simple refreshing aperitif white. Three fine examples come from Mas des Chimères at Octon near lake Salagou - the land of basalt and the extraordinary red Permien era deposits; Domaine de Barrioubio St Jean de Minervois (also the address for elegant and racy sweet Muscat) and Domaine Treloar at Trouillas in the Pyrenees-Orientales with their One Block white (and an extraordinary effort from the unfashionable Muscat d'Alexandrie).

The most complex (and rarest) Languedoc dry white comes from the Grange des Pères at Aniane made from Rousanne, Chardonnay with a touch of Viognier and aged in oak for two years. Critical is the proximity of the Larzac plateau and Herault gorge that bring lower night time temperatures.


  1. Hi Graham

    Nice to see you blogging - and that you have been looking at mine!

    I agree with your first paragraph - to a point. But skilful winemakers can make lovely wines from non-indigenous white varieties in Languedoc. Try Domaine La Colombette for delicious, light, elegant Sauvignon Blanc. Their dry Muscat is also sensationally good, with none of the bitterness on the finish that dry Muscats often suffer from. Their Chardonnays are also excellent. Cave de Neffies also make a lovely Sauvignon - regularly starred in the Guide Hachette, and deservedly so.

    As for Picpoul, I would say it is a quintessentially elegant grape/wine, so perhaps the one main exception to the Languedoc's reputation for bigger whites - indeed, it fits your "fresh, grassy, mineral, lemon" description perfectly.

    By the way, any chance you could update your description of my wine list on Languedoc Dining? I've moved on quite a lot since you wrote that! ;-)

    Keep up the good work.

  2. We've recently been enjoying a delicious viognier from Domaine Murettes in La Liviniere. And I'm also a fan of Chateau de la Negly La Brise Marine. I'll look out for the Picpoul from Domaine Bridau. My personal favourite is Felines Jourdan but I've not yet tried the 2008.
    I agree with Leon that the whites from Domaine la Colombette are very good. Most of their wines have undergone a reverse osmosis to reduce the alcohol level but without sacrificing the fruit. Most reduced alcohol wines are dire but they do a decent range called Plume which are around 9%.

    Graham, can you send me your email adress as I've mislaid it and I would like to send you tasting notes on Mas de Daumas Gassac. Thanks.