If you are hankering for fine French wine and food, you should consider the Languedoc-Roussillon region of south central France. Perhaps you will find a bargain, and I am sure that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local red Pinot Noir. Languedoc-Roussillon holds fourth place among the eleven wine-growing regions of France when it comes to 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. Although nearly one third of all French wine is classified as Vin de Pays they are few and far between in North America. I smelled a potential bargain.
The grape variety was Pinot Noir. I saw a quite exhaustive list of Languedoc-Roussillon grape varieties with more than thirty entries, some famous, others obscure. Pinot Noir was absent, surely not by oversight.
Pinot Noir is usually a cool-weather grape grown in areas like Champagne and Burgundy in France, and the state of Oregon. 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, population about fifty thousand, was a major city in the days of Ancient Roman.
Sadly little of its Roman past remains. You'll have to be satisfied with "modern" sites such as the Fourteenth Century Cathedrale 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 Archeveques (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 Mourguie 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. While Leon Blum, three time French Prime Minister was born in Paris but it was Narbonne that elected him to Parliament. 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 Peches 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 Partiarche 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 initial reaction was - I can't believe a Pinot Noir at this 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. It was quite long with good extract. I tasted tobacco and dark fruits. The final meal involved grilled hamburgers with spicy Thai sauce, a coleslaw advertised as a health coleslaw - 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. In place of the sweet cherries that I had been promised I tasted black cherries.
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. In any case this wine became excessively acidic, losing 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.
In his younger days Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten computer and Internet books. Now he prefers drinking fine Italian, German, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods and the right people. He loves teaching various and sundry computer classes at an Ontario French-language community college. His global wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com and his Italian food website is http://www.fooditalyfood.com .