Back in 2009, Eric Asimov wrote about the overall improvement of Languedoc wines over the last 25 years or so, stating that "In a tasting... of 20 bottles of red from the Languedoc, the wine panel found them still to be all over the place stylistically. But the level of high quality in the winemaking was unexpectedly consistent." After tasting well over 100 wines in the course of a week on a recent tour through the region by the Le Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc (check out this post for some snapshots and highlights), I can wholeheartedly agree with him, though I did manage to pick out some personal favorites.
The vast majority of the wine produced in the region is red, but we managed to taste quite a few excellent whites, rosés, and sparkling wines. While the wines varied stylistically, the best value wines all tended to share characteristics of bright fruit flavors and a drinkably acidic freshness. Here are 17 of my favorite sips, almost all under $15. Eric wasn't kidding when he talked about the great value of wines from the region.
Great Value Reds
Domaine de Fontsaine Réserve La Demoiselle Corbières 2009: On the intense, peppery side, with savory herbal aromas. 60% of the blend was from 100-year old carignan vines. Aged for 12 months in oak barrels, this wine shows big, savory tannins. I'd drink this with a grilled lamb-burger. It sells for around $14.
Château de Serame Corbiéres 2009: A full-bodied and robust red with a strong backbone of old-vine carignan, fresh juicy fruit from grenache, and a strong peppery syrah finish. Aged for just 5 months in oak, the pebbly flavors of the rocky soils come through. It retails for around $14.
Château Etang de Colombe Corbiéres Bicentenaire Vielles Vignes 2007: A great value at only 11 bucks, this grenache, carignan, and mourvedre blend is a soft and supple sipper with a cherry-like aroma and plenty of fresh fruit balanced by deeper flavors of coffee and chocolate.
Château Millegrand Minervois 2010: One of my favorite sips from one of my favorite appellations in Languedoc, this $12 blend of syrah, carignan, and grenache with a splash of mourvedre is as fresh as they come with the distinct bay leaf and garrigue aromas, cassis and cherry flavors, and a clean, long finish.
Château Millegrand Minervois Cuvee Mourral Grand Reserve 2009: Another great value from Château Millegrand, the 2009 Grand Reserve is for people who are into a bit of funk (I am). The typical cherries, herbs, and spice are there, along with the fresh fruitiness, but this guy carried the distinct, earthy, barnyardy aroma of porcini mushrooms. Super smooth with a light minerality, the wine retails for around $14.
Vignoble du Loup Blanc Minervois 'Le Regal du Loup': Very food friendly, this $14 from the far east side of the Minervois appellation is vinified in concrete tanks, letting the natural red fruit flavors of the carignan, grenache, and syrah blend come forward. Spicy, fresh, and acidic with hints of licorice.
Château de Capitoul La Clape Rocaille Rouge, 2007: Elegant and complex with salty, savory aromas of black olives, this wine is spicy and intense on the palate. At $17 it's a little pricier than some other wines from the area, but it's big enough to stand up to a nice piece of grilled meat or an intensely-topped pizza.
Château Massiac Minervois 2012: Highly concentrated olive and blackcurrant flavors that comes from the well-drained soils of the estate, the aroma of thyme, lavender, and bay leaf is strong in this one. Herbal and slightly resinous with a uniquely bitter finish, it still manages to retain a freshness that makes it very drinkable at $14.
Les Clos Perdu Cuvée 81 Corbières: It's the most expensive wine on this list at around $20, but this biodynamic wine is still a great value with a bright red fruitiness and a fresh acidity that had me yearning for a full glass after a few tastes. Interesting orange-rind aromas and an herbal quality evocative of eucalyptus make this wine an excellent partner for grilled food and cured meats.
Sippable Rosés and Whites
Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris Corbières 2011: A fresh rosé that has a bright acidity that makes it the perfect refreshing summer accompaniment to cheese and olives, or grilled fish or chicken on the back deck. Bright berry flavors hit you first, eventually revealing more tropical fruits. At $12, you can't go wrong.
Château de Donjon Minervois Rosé 2011: Roses, strawberries, and citrus fruit with a grapefruit-like finish. Dry and velvety, you could close your eyes and think you were drinking a light red. Light on the alcohol (12%), and light on the wallet ($13).
2011 Paul Mas Domaine Astruc 'dA' Reserve Chardonnay: A chardonnay for folks who aren't so into the heavily oaked fruit-bombs we've gotten accustomed to in the U.S. The flavor of this $9 value bottle comes across as lighter and fresher with a bright acidity and hints of green apple and citrus.
Bubbles Worth Celebrating
Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux, Brut 2010: Dry as a bone with bright lemony acidity and a hint of melons and apples, it has a great yeasty, bread-like aroma and small, creamy bubbles. I don't know many $10 sparkling wines with this kind of appeal.
Sieur d'Arques Première Bulle Brut 2010: It's not yet available in the states, but is poised to enter the market for the holiday season, when I guarantee you my wife and her friends will be drinking plenty of it. Don't let the shiny pink label and clearly targeted marketing fool you, this $16 bottle is a serious sparkler with delicate bubbles, floral aromas of elderflower and honeysuckle, and a smooth, buttery palate with toasty nut aromas on the finish.
Antech Crémant de Limoux Cuvée Emotion 2010: A pretty pink sparkling rosé with fresh berry aromas, a dry finish, and very lively bubbles. At $15, I'd be equally comfortable serving this with a foie terrine at a fancy dinner party, or alongside a light stir-fry or Thai cuisine.
Antech Crémant de Limoux Grande Cuvée Brut 2010: A superb value at $16, this dry, elegant sparkler shows aromas of grapefruit and toasted bread with a long, dry finish and very small, creamy bubbles. This is a great, inexpensive bottle for celebrating with.
Delmas 2009 Blanquette de Limoux, Cuvée Mémoire: A 90% mauzac, 10% chardonnay blend aged in oak, it shows deliciously herbal flavors not common amongst sparkling wines and a very light acidity.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.