We’ve said goodbye to the sound of the cicada and chilled rosés (or chilled reds for the fashionistas), and our thoughts now turn to that glass of comforting red. Yes, les vendanges are well under way, and the moment towards which all vignerons have been working hard all year whilst praying to nature to ensure the best results possible - either qualitative or quantitative, depending on which side of the fence you sit - is finally here.
Here in the beautiful Minervois, our Sundays will be taken up hunting for the season’s last cep mushrooms, swiftly followed by chestnuts that are begging to be roasted - tasty but unacceptably dry, unless washed down with something earthy and red! All this seasonal foraging is to stock our larder for the oncoming winter, and the inevitable feasting and drinking during the festive season.
Let’s go on a virtual festive feast! For me, the apéritif is paramount in ensuring the evening gets off
to a flying start. Here in the Languedoc, we are fortunate to have experienced divine intervention when the abbot Dom Pérignon (yes, that’s right - the same one) miraculously discovered sparkling wine whilst residing at the abbey of Saint-Hilaire near Limoux, creating something very near to what we now know as the extremely quaffable Blanquette de Limoux. For me, Limoux boasts sparkling wines that can substitute
for many Champagnes, yet are great value for money, retailing at a fraction of the price (between €5 and €15).
Let’s look at three different sparkling Limoux wines - Blanquette, Crémant and Ancestrale. Blanquette is made with Mauzac (a relatively unknown grape, unless you live in Limoux) as its dominant grape (90%) and also Chenin and Chardonnay.
Crémant has the Chardonnay as its dominant grape (40-70%), with Mauzac, Chenin and Pinot Noir making up the blend that more closely resembles Champagne than the others. These wines are great for the apéritif, and make super bases for cocktails with the addition of other ingredients (try sirop de pêche for a great
Bellini). The Ancestrale uses a single fermentation process with 100% Mauzac, creating a 6% lowalcohol
fruity wine with elegant pear and apple notes - perfect with a chocolate dessert! All of these festive fizzes use the méthode traditionelle of fermentation (as in Champagne), unlike Prosecco (the Sodastream of the wine world) which has gas injected into it!
As we take our places at the festive table in France, the sheer extravagance involved during les fêtes becomes apparent. Traditionally in France, the emphasis is based on a gourmet experience for all. Seafood plays a huge part in the winter festivities, with oysters and lobsters in abundance. Go for crisp, acidic
citrussy whites like a Picpoul de Pinet (the only real accompaniment to oysters) or one of our many super
Sauvignons, packed with notes of citrus fruits.
If roast meats, stews or game are more your seasonal thing, then a plethora of delights are at your
The winter fare in this neck of the woods is not for the faint-hearted - many dishes are high in fat (giving flavour), and strong meats require equally strong reds. There are so many reds to choose from that it can be a minefield, so try to go for good strong appellations like Corbières, with its intense tannic bold reds, a dark rich Malbec (also known as “Cot”) from its traditional home in Cahors, or maybe a strong, oakey Madiran that uses Tannat and Cabernet Franc to produce the perfect accompaniment to wintery duck-based dishes. These wines all benefit from a bit of caraffing, or at least a few hours of being open.
On a lighter note... dessert! During the cold months, I often find myself with a bottle of moelleux or Banyuls. Often seen as old-fashioned, dessert wines never get the attention they deserve. Try a Muscat
from Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, or discover a sweet red from Banyuls in the Roussillon region – or if you
really fancy going local, look for a Cartagène, a thoroughly wonderful drop. Above all, keep warm and
festive this winter, and stick to the old adage "everything in moderation - including moderation!"
For more info onTaste du Languedoc, visit www.tastedulanguedocwinetours.com, or find us on Facebook at Inspiré Azille.