Anyone who follows the Languedoc wine scene will probably have read about the new wine hierarchy of Grands Vins du Languedoc and Grands Crus du Languedoc. Commenting objectively is tough as little has been announced.
The body concerned is CIVL (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc) who translate this to “the joint trade council of the wines of Languedoc”. Note CIVL doesn’t cover Roussillon who may be observing this with bated breath. CIVL receive funding from anyone who produces wine in exchange for the right to label it “AOC Minervois” or equivalent, so it's reasonable to assume they represent winemakers interests at all levels. Their President is, after all, Frédéric Jeanjean who owns that giant of a producer Jeanjean.
The problem being addressed is that the Languedoc Appellation system is too complex, the result of gradual developments as more areas and sub-areas qualified for AOC status over the years. It needs simplifying and it needs to be clear to the consumer. In fairness to CIVL it’s a case of they’re dammed if the don’t and perhaps dammed even more if they do. To their credit they've made a move with the launch of the new order of vineyard areas, although some ratification is needed by the INAO – the AOC authority for all agricultural products in France.
The terms “Grand Vin” and “Grand Cru” are going to be recognised by any consumer of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace. The Rhone and Beaujolais regions were more modest with simply named “crus” for the better areas or villages such as Gigondas or Fleurie. While “Grand” is quite a brazen tag, Languedoc wine is now in a global market and bold confidence is needed.
My initial reading of the announcement was like a schoolboy eyeing sports league tables – who was placed where. The Grand Crus are Minervois La Livinière, Corbières Boutenac, Saint Chinian Roquebrun, Terrasses du Larzac, Grès de Montpellier, Pic Saint Loup, Pézenas, La Clape and Limoux (still wines). The Grands Vins du Languedoc are Minervois, Corbières, Saint Chinian, Limoux (sparkling wines), Malepère, Faugères, Cabardès, Muscat areas and part of the Terroirs des Coteaux du Languedoc including Picpoul de Pinet.
My schoolboy reaction was how come Faugères isn’t a Grand Cru (and what have they done to upset CIVL), that Grès de Montpellier covers a large diverse area with few exceptional wines, and I couldn’t think of a wine from Corbières Boutenac. On further research it turns out some AOC sub-areas were created in 2005 including Boutenac and Roquebrun in Saint Chinian. Awarding them Grand Cru status seems consistent with that initiative, although why not Saint Chinian Berlou as well? On a positive note the catch all “Coteaux du Languedoc” disappears.
For wine lovers the real Languedoc is about the vignerons; the small independents or even the more interesting of the larger enterprises such as Paul Mas. The authorities are still sticking to the principle that quality of the terroir and restrictive rules about grape varieties is what matters in a classification. This was appropriate for a time when all wine was made in pretty much the same way before the technology and knowhow revolution. I’m all for terroir, but quality grape growing and accomplished winemaking must be in place first and foremost. Only then can it be about the all important efforts to make the wines express their origins.
For more on this and a winemaker's perspective do read Ryan's O'Vinyards Winemaker Blog
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