Meet France's newest Southern red with lashings of character and variety
- Credit: Georges Souche.
When we can travel again there's one place at the top of my destination wish-list. Already, I've been transported to this little-known and beautiful corner of southern France, virtually via a webinar and physically through its wines. That's whetted my appetite for more.
These reds express extraordinary character, of both place and people. From such a limited area – some 45 kilometres by 20 – they also show fascinating variety. They go from fruit-led and elegant, with silky tannins, to a wild and savoury essence of spiky herbs and brushwood; some are rich and immediately fulfilling while others are more introspective yet ultimately hugely rewarding. All are aromatic, with freshness balancing alcohol, and are blissful companions to grilled red meat or roast vegetables particularly.
Growers have a choice of five grape varieties – syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, carignan and cinsault, the usual gang around here – and face a very typically Gallic set of complicated rules on which they can use together and in what proportions. Some wines, I suspect, tweak those regulations a bit, but why not when the results are so appealing?
Terrasses du Larzac is one of France's newest appellations, taken out of a wider Languedoc regional designation in 2014. The number of growers was already increasing and has soared since. Remarkably, three-quarters of the vineyards are tended organically, and many of the rest will follow soon.
The area lies at the foot of 850-metre Pic Saint Baudile, a 45-minute drive west north west of Montpellier. It's a world away from urbanity, with sparsely populated hills and valleys, and very diverse volcanic bedrocks below stony clay/limestone-dominated topsoils. Most of the vines, as the appellation name implies, grow on terraces, and cool summer nights ensure that typical freshness in even the richest wines.
Some big names are starting to snap up what little land is still available, but the most exciting wines come from charismatic individuals. Irish-born musician Gavin Crisfield is one, a happy settler in a place he describes as beautiful and unique.
Inevitably, Larzac yields are low and and small-scale production isn't cheap, so few bottles will give you much change from £25. But that's very fair for the quality. A surprisingly good choice is available in the UK. Try these sellers: stonevine.co.uk (Mas des Brousses, £20),leaandsandeman.co.uk (Domaine de La Réserve d'O, £23.50), rfvintners.co.uk (Château Saint Jean d’Aumières L’Alchimiste Black Edition, £24), yapp.co.uk (Domaine de Montcalmès, £29.75), virginwines.co.uk (Gavin Chrisfield La Traversée, £30). If I make it to the region, I'll drink fine whites and rosés, too, but reds alone can be called Terrasses du Larzac.