If you are looking for fine French wine and food, consider the Languedoc-Roussillon region of south central France. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local red Pinot Noir.
Among the eleven wine-growing regions of France Languedoc-Roussillon ranks number four in total vineyard acreage. This area, which includes the Midi was traditionally known for generating immense amounts of rather dubious table wine called vin ordinaire. Recently, in part because of Australian winemakers, the region has started to produce a lot of fine wine. A few weeks ago a salesman offering free samples greeted me at my nearby wine store. While I hadn’t planned to review yet another Languedoc-Roussillon wine so soon after the two others, I was particularly intrigued by this wine’s classification and its grape variety.
The wine bottle proudly displayed a sticker proclaiming its Gold ranking in a national contest for Vin de Pays (Country Wines) in 2006. You may recall from the initial article in this series (I Love French Wine and Food – Launching a Series) that Vin de Pays is a relatively recent French classification for wines of promise that for one reason or another don’t meet the stricter requirements of the presumably better classifications. Even though almost one third of French wine is classified as Vin de Pays we don’t get too many of them here. I smelled a potential bargain.
The grape variety was Pinot Noir. I know of a relatively recent exhaustive list of Languedoc-Roussillon grape varieties comprising over thirty entries, some famous, others obscure. Pinot Noir was absent, surely not by oversight. Pinot Noir tends to be a cool-weather grape found in places such as Champagne and Burgundy in France, and Oregon in the United States. In our various article series we reviewed Pinot Noirs from non-traditional areas including Germany, Italy, and France (Alsace). We’ll see below how a Languedoc-Roussillon Pinot Noir stacks up.
Narbonne is a city of about fifty thousand that had been a major city in old Roman times. Sadly little of its Roman past remains. You’ll have to be satisfied with “modern” sites such as the Fourteenth Century Cathédrale St-Just-et-St-Pasteur (St-Just’s and St-Pasteur’s Cathedral), the tallest cathedral in all of southern France. Nearby is the Palais des Archevêques (Archbishop’s Palace) that houses art and archeology museums. If you’re feeling ambitious climb the almost two hundred steps in the dungeon for a prisoner’s eye view of the surroundings. The sculpture museum in the former church Notre Dame de la Mourguié displays Roman and Gallic treasures of all sorts. The twenty two kilometer (fifteen mile) Robine Canal, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, flows into the much longer Canal du Midi (Midi Canal), similarly classified. Charles Trenet, a famous French singer and songwriter was born in Narbonne. Leon Blum, a three time French Prime Minister was born in Paris but elected to Parliament from Narbonne.
Before reviewing the Languedoc-Roussillon wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Gambas (Prawns). For your second course savor Loup en Papillote (Sea Bass cooked in Foil). And as dessert indulge yourself with Pêches à la Minervoise (White Peaches with Muscat Wine and Raisins).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed Patriarche Pinot Noir Vin de Pays 2004 12% about $9
Let’s start by quoting the marketing materials. Tasting Note: Pale ruby color; light cherry and spice aromas, sweet fresh cherry flavour, soft finish. Serving suggestion: Serve with cold roast beef.
My first meal consisted of cold beef spare ribs with cracked peppercorns, potato salad, and cucumber and onion salad. My first reaction was – this is a real Pinot Noir at a great price. Its light acid did a great job of cutting the congealed fat. It was shorter and less complex than other Pinot Noirs that cost a lot, lot more.
The next meal was cold barbequed chicken with cucumber and onion salad, and potato salad. There was a lot of extract and quite a good length. I tasted tobacco and dark fruits.
The final meal involved grilled hamburgers with spicy Thai sauce, a cole slaw advertised as a health cole slaw – whatever that means, and once again potato salad. In this case spicy meant really spicy. The sauce was too assertive; I had to remove most of it. While I like spices I want the wine to be there. Once that problem was solved the wine was fine. I tasted black cherries rather than the sweet cherries that I had been promised. I was not disappointed. I also tasted the underbrush and that didn’t disappoint me either.
My first cheese pairing was with a local Asiago cheese that I prefer to the native Italian versions that I have tried. Perhaps in Italy… The Pinot Noir was powerful with dark fruit. Then I went to a goat’s milk cheese, a Palet de Chevre from the Poitou Charentes region of central-western France. I might have guessed that the cheese was a Camembert rather than a goat’s milk cheese. Be that as it may, the wine became too acidic and lost its flavor. Then I paired the Pinot Noir with a nutty tasting Swiss Gruyere. At first the same phenomenon occurred, but later became less pronounced. I thought that perhaps the wine was starting to decline, but I finished the bottle on its own and the fruit came back in force.
Final verdict. We have a winner. We have a bargain. The two are related. At twice the price I wouldn’t bother. But at the present price I’ll be coming back. And I’ll be looking for another Vin de Pays to try soon.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would
rather just drink fine French or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario
French-language community college. His wine websites include
www.theworldwidewine.com and http://www.theitalianwineconnection.com
Visit his website devoted to Italian travel www.travelitalytravel.com
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