D’OC ’N’ ROLL: Pays d’Oc up close and personal

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23rd December, 2020 by Patrick Schmitt

Languedoc-Roussillon, home of Pays d’Oc IGP expressions, is one of the largest wine-producing areas in the world. To get to grips with all the region has to offer, db is running a series of online varietal masterclasses, so read on and register your interest by clicking here.


WITH TODAY’S wine trends seemingly favouring the well-known, the authentic, and the affordable, few regions are better placed to sate current consumer desires than Pays d’Oc. Of the Languedoc- Roussillon’s 240,000 hectares, 120,000ha are devoted to making Pays d’Oc wines.

The classification represents a vast viticultural haven for winemakers, who can craft varietally-labelled wines that offer drinkers the comfort of famous names, or blends of native grapes to capture the attention of the more adventurous imbiber. Not only that, but this giant region is able to deliver wines with masses of quality and personality for the price.

Plus, its dry, fresh climate provides the ideal conditions for organic grape growing, meaning that Pays d’Oc is also a go-to classification for green wine labels. Such advantages provide the motivation needed to explore in detail the wines of the Pays d’Oc right now.

Aware that professional wine buyers are looking for new sources of keenly priced, commercially relevant options for their customers, we are laying on three virtual masterclasses to show what’s available from the Pays d’Oc (see boxout for details). Each one deals with a different strength of the region, be it the Pays d’Oc’s varietal and commercial know- how, its sustainable wine production, or its more esoteric offering, comprising native grapes and ancient vines.

So what makes Pays d’Oc a suitable source of wines that fit with any three of these criteria, and, in particular, the drinker in search of the straightforward? Despite the complex geography of this wine-producing area, the offer to consumers is simple.

GRAPE TYPES
Rather than selling products according to site specifics, wines from the Pays d’Oc are largely labelled according to grape variety, with this single classification accounting for more than 90% of all French IGP wine production. This is key, because, while the expert seeks out specific places, for the vast majority of drinkers, wine is bought according to grape. Indeed, consultancy Wine Intelligence says it’s the top cue, and two- thirds of all wine sold in the UK’s retailers is varietal-labelled. Notably, the Pays d’Oc offer is diverse, with 58 varieties allowed.

Among newcomers expanding this list are whites such as Albariño, reds such as Caladoc – a Grenache- Malbec cross – as well as Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Carmenère. In terms of scale, it may be surprising to learn that Merlot is the most-used grape under the Pays d’Oc classification, and Pinot Noir the fourth most extensive.

As for growth areas, these include Grenache-Cabernet cross Marselan, while Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault thrive in the conditions of the south of France, and Cabernet Franc is considered a rising star. There is also a re-emergence of Carignan, in line with a development of drought-resistant varieties to counteract the effects of climate change.

However, a key variety of the classification remains Cabernet Sauvignon. Aiding Pays d’Oc in its ability to offer wines that are green, authentic and affordable is the region’s size and location. The area stretches out along the western coast of southern France, extending from Provence to the Pyrenees and the Spanish border.

Languedoc-Roussillon is huge, almost 10 times bigger than Burgundy in terms of vineyard area. As for production, Languedoc-Roussillon makes around 13 million hectolitres of wine annually, making this single region as voluminous as Argentina. Of its 240,000ha, around half its grapes are used or sold as Pays d’Oc IGP.

That means that this single classification is 10% of the French vineyard area, and represents 16% of French wine production, making Pays d’Oc bigger than the New Zealand wine industry.

To draw further comparison, the 6.5m hl of Pays d’Oc produced each year is equivalent to half of Australia’s total production and one-third that of the US. Scale aside, key to sustainable wine production in this part of France are the weather conditions. Pays d’Oc is primarily a Mediterranean climate, with hot dry summers – Montpellier is France’s sunniest city. Moderating the climate is a near-constant breeze, which prolongs ripening and reduces disease incidence.

The region is buffeted by as many as four winds: the Mistral; the Tramontane; the Marine; and the Autan. As a result, two things are evident in Pays d’Oc wines.

One is restraint and balance, despite the ripe fruit, and the other is the low-intervention viticulture. This area is one of France’s largest for organics, not so much proportionately, but in terms of production, with around 67m bottles certified organic.

While climate has the greatest influence on wine style in the region, soils are still important, and Languedoc-Roussillon contains most of the major top vine-growing types, from sandstone to calcareous clay, limestone and shale, sand, pebble terraces and pudding stones like you find in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Such a range of terroirs allows for the broad array of wine styles that can be found in Pays d’Oc, including exciting blends employing grapes that are native to the Mediterranean wine-growing areas of Europe. Often using the fruit from old vines, these wines provide a chance for the consumer to taste something unique, pleasant, and without paying a high price. Star grapes of the region include whites such as Viognier and Grenache Gris and Blanc, along with Vermentino (otherwise known as Rolle) and Muscat.

Among the reds, it’s Syrah and Grenache that can produce remarkable results, both on their own or in a blend, with Carignan and Petit Verdot also yielding exciting wines. Last, but by no means least, Pays d’Oc is a source of accomplished rosés, from the pale and delicate, to the more deeply coloured and richly fruity. Considering the rising prices for the salmon pink wines of Provence, and Pays d’Oc’s ability to craft wines in a similar style at much lower prices, the classification should also be considered as an excellent and cheaper alternative to increasingly expensive Provençal rosés, and it produces more rosé than Provence.

With a history of wine production in Languedoc-Roussillon going back at least 2,600 years, the Pays d’Oc IGP is, relatively speaking, a baby. It was inspired by the rise of varietally-labelled New World wines, and created by Jacques Gravegeal, then president of the Vin de Pays d’Oc wine producers union, together with Sete-based shipper Robert Skalli, who owned a winery in California. It was Skalli who first used Vin de Pays d’Oc on a label, featuring the term on his Fortant de France brand in 1987.

More than 30 vintages on, Pays d’Oc is France’s leading designate by volume – ahead of Bordeaux in export markets – and became a PGI in 2009. It also represents the world’s fifth-largest exporter of varietal wines behind Argentina, Chile and California.

RAPID RISE
The rapid rise of this classification, which has gone from 80,000 bottles in 1987 to 767m by 2017, means that today 25 bottles of Pays d’Oc are sold every second. Furthermore, each one of these wines has been quality-assessed, with every commercial sample of Pays d’Oc tasted before release, representing around 900 samples per week, from around 450 accredited tasters, with a rejection rate of 9% to 20%.

This combination of winemaking freedom and quality control is a powerful one, allowing for a varied offer from the Pays d’Oc, but without raising the risk of a disappointing wine reaching the consumer. So, consider the Pays d’Oc as the safe and affordable option whether it’s for something made with a famous grape, a wine made with a green approach, or an affordable label featuring something out of the ordinary.

Discover Pays d’Oc IGP

Stretching along the Mediterranean coast to the height of the Pyrenees, the Pays d’Oc IGP vineyard is a part of the largest winemaking area in the world, producing more wines than the whole of New Zealand. But it is also the richest in terms of range, encompassing a broad sweep of styles, from delicate whites to full-bodied reds, and everything in between. To celebrate such choice, the drinks business and Pays d’Oc have collaborated to bring the UK trade a taste of this region’s exciting offer through three virtual events, featuring wines chosen by Patrick Schmitt MW following a blind tasting of almost 300 samples. The online masterclasses will cover three different themes, incorporating 24 wines. The online masterclasses will be as follows:

  • 18 January, 3pm GMT: Varietal and commercial (for the Pays d’Oc’s many great value, fashionable varietal wines from Pinot Noir to Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 25 January, 3pm GMT: Organic and sustainable (for the Pays d’Oc’s rich array of affordable wines made in an environmentally-sensitive manner).
  • 1 February, 3pm GMT: Native and novel (to draw attention to the Pays d’Oc’s wealth of indigenous grapes, old vines and novel blends)

If you would like to attend any of these masterclasses please register your interest here. 

24 Pays d’Oc wines to try

VARIETAL AND COMMERCIAL:

  1. Domaine de Massiac, Sauvignon Blanc
  2. Les Vignobles Foncalieu, Albarino
  3. Marquis de Pennautier, Chardonnay
  4. Alma Cersius, Miss Alma Rosé
  5. Laurent Miquel, Solas, Pinot Noir
  6. Fortant de France, Malbec
  7. Domaine Montlobre, La Chapelle, Merlot
  8. Gabriel Meffre, Laurus, Syrah

ORGANIC AND SUSTAINABLE:

  1. Domaine Saint-Cels, Tinte Clochette Blanc, Colombard/Vermentino
  2. Domaine La Louvière, Le Libertin, Sauvignon Blanc
  3. Domaine Gayda, Flying Solo Blanc, Grenache Blanc/Viognier
  4. Domaines Costes Rouges, L’Espérance Blanc, Viognier
  5. Famille Fabre, Grande Courtade L’Instant Rosé
  6. Sainte Marie des Crozes, En Rébellion, Pinot Noir
  7. Domaine Le Nouveau Monde, Carabènes, Syrah
  8. Domaine Gayda, Flying Solo Rouge, Grenache Noir/Syrah

NATIVE AND NOVEL:

  1. Domaine de Puilacher, Circulade Blanc, Chardonnay/Viognier/ Vermentino
  2. Domaine de Figuières, Impetus Blanc, Roussanne/Viognier
  3. Les Domaines Barsalou, Grenache Gris
  4. Mas la Chevalière, Rosé, Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault
  5. M. Chapoutier, Marius, Grenache/Syrah
  6. Serre de Guery, L’Esprit d’Eloi, Petit Verdot
  7. Les Jamelles, Les Traverses, Selection Parcellaire, Mourvèdre
  8. Domaine D’Aigues Belles, Cuvée Nicole, Syrah/Cabernet Sauvigno

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DISCOVER PAYS D’OC IGP

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