Most wine drinkers likely have some familiarity with well-known French wine regions like Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy. Less have familiarity with the region of Languedoc-Roussillon.
The Languedoc takes its name from language spoken in this region during the Middle Ages. In English, langue translates to “language” and d’oc to “of yes.” So this region in English translates to “the language of yes.”
Languedoc-Roussillon is a vast wine-growing area in southwest France situated west of Provence. It borders the Mediterranean to the east and its western-most boundaries extend to the foothills of the Pyrenees and the Spanish border.
This region grows more wine grapes than the entirety of the United States with more than 700,000 acres under vine. It is also one of the oldest wine-producing areas in the world. A 2,400-year-old wine press was recently unearthed in this region at the ancient Mediterranean port site of Lattara. This press is thought to be the earliest evidence ever found of the existence of a wine culture in France.
At one time Languedoc-Roussillon produced 44 percent of all wine consumed in France. The decline in domestic wine consumption and the reluctance of some growers and producers to modernize, as well as competition from inexpensive imports from Italy, Spain and the U.S., have led this region to fall on hard times.
Some of these small property holders who sell their production to cooperatives belong to an extremely violent organization known as CRAV — the Regional Committee for Viticultural Action. To draw the attention of the French government to their plight, some under the auspices of CRAV have claimed responsibility for bombing co-ops and public and private buildings, vandalizing fellow producers and attacking retailers and other groups who are seen as being disloyal to local producers.
The French government and the European Union want these small growers to curtail production of grapes used in bulk wine for which there is no market, suggesting some allow their land to go fallow. However, the European economic crisis makes it increasingly difficult for the French government to supplement bad farming practices.
Though the area remains riddled in controversy, some producers have made inroads into modernizing production. Domaine Fontsainte is one of those wineries. The Laboucarié family, current proprietors of Domaine Fontsainte, established the Domaine in its current incarnation in 1971, but the family has been in the wine business since the 17th century.
Fontsainte is located on the ancient site where a Roman officer established his estate near a thermal spring. Various artifacts have been unearthed, including a gold coin bearing the head of Marcus Agrippa circa 25 AD. The property takes its name from a 12th-century chapel bearing the name Fontsainte, the saint’s fountain.
The top appellations in this region are Corbières, Faugères, Minervois, St. Chinian and a catch-all appellation called Coteaux de Languedoc. Corbières, where Fontsainte is located, is generally considered the most prestigious of these appellations.
Try this delightful wine from “the language of yes” and the fountain of the saint.
Domaine de Fontsainte Corbières is a blend of 60 percent cardigan, 30 percent grenache noir and 10 syrah. In a lineup of pricier red wines, it was impossible for the tasting panel to determine this wine’s origin. It was the favorite of the evening. Packed with appealing and approachable fruit flavors. Medium weight, balanced red wine with a smooth finish. Good cheese wine. Should be excellent with pig cooked on the barbie. Appealingly priced at $12 per bottle at Tyson Fine Wine and Things in Golden Springs.
Email Pat Kettles at firstname.lastname@example.org