The October issue of la Revue du Vin de France makes interesting reading for lovers of the wines of the Languedoc. They have compiled their classification of the 40 top producers of the region. Unlike the Bordeaux classification of 1855, price was not a criterion. Here they have taken only red wine, with a current vintage and a wine that is ten years old, thereby removing some possible contenders from amongst the younger estates. It makes for fascinating reading. Some names I absolutely agreed with; others I am less enthusiastic about. Some, in my opinion, are actually better at white than red, and there are a small handful of estates with which I am not sufficiently familiar to comment. .
The three premiers crus classes are Mas Jullien, Domaine Gauby and Domaine de la Grange des Pères. There is nothing contentious there; these three estates have been consistently producing great wine for a number of years.
Next followed a total of ten second growths:
Domaine Peyre Rose for Clos des Cistes – I agree; some wonderful wines, but when you go and visit Marlene Soria only gives you wines to taste that are ten years old. I do wonder what her more recent wines are like.
Domaine Jean-Michel Alquier – a great Faugères estate. Jean-Michel has successfully carried on his father’s pioneering work.
Domaine Leon Barral – More contentious. I have very mixed feelings about Didier Barral’s wines, and sometimes wonder if this is not a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. I have liked some of his wines in the past, but more recent tastings have been a less happy experience.
Domaine de Montcalmès – I have visited a couple of times, and found the wine-making and approach thoughtful and the wines elegant. No flamboyance here. .
Domaine Alain Chabanon for l’Esprit de Fontcaude. For me Alain is one of the great wine growers of Montpeyroux. And his Campredon always offers simple pleasure.
Domaine Gardiés in Roussillon. I never visited – note to put them on the list – so really cannot form an opinion.
Clos Marie in Pic St. Loup – I had slightly mixed feelings on my last visit; I loved the wines in barrels, and was for some reason less excited by the vintages in bottle.
Domaine les Aurelles – Basil St. Germain is for me, one of the great white wine makers of the Languedoc. I like his red wines, but it is his white wines that really sing.
Château la Baronne. One of the great Corbières estates. Subtle elegant wines, and with a track record. I met Paul Lignières’ parents in the mid-1980s when la Baronne was a pioneering estate.
And now for the third growths, which form the bulk of the classification.
At no 14 comes Domaine Canet –Valette – I visited that estate last summer and left with a sadly disappointing impression, especially as I had remember Marc Valette as pioneering and creative, from my book research ten years earlier.
Mas Cal Demoura – Undoubtedly one of the stars of the rising Terrasses du Larzac. Vincent Goumard produces some finely crafted elegant wines, both red and white.
Ermitage du Pic St. Loup. It’s a while since I visited this estate, so I think an update is overdue.
Mas Daumas –Gassac – Its position as a pioneer of the Languedoc is unassailable, but these days I find myself less enthusiastic about the wines. I’ve been disappointed with some recent vintages, and then pleasantly surprised by others.
Roc d’Anglade in the village of Langlade in the Gard. – Remy Pedreno is self-taught and an extraordinary talented and thoughtful winemaker.
Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian – The new Russian owners are allowing the Australian wine maker Karen Turner her freedom, so that this pioneering estate continues to improve and develop. The wines age beautifully.
Clos du Rouge Gorge – Côtes Catalanes. A vaguely familiar name, but I have no experience of it. No doubt an omission to remedy.
Domaine de la Garance – There are wines that I like better from the village of Caux. These tend to be quite rich and heady, high on impact and short on elegance, but that said, Pierre Quinonero is an interesting and provocative winemaker.
Domaine Olivier Pithon - One of the talented gang of wine growers in the Roussillon village of Calce.
Domaine Jean-Baptiste Senat in the Minervois- A slightly familiar name, but I have never visited.
Domaine de la Grange de Quatre Sous – Hildegaard Horat makes some intriguingly creative and original wines.
Domaine du Clos des Fées - I have done a cellar visit with Herve Bizeul and tasted his wines a few times, but tend to find them a little too rich and heady for my taste buds. Alcohol levels can be a problem in Roussillon.
Domaine les Mille Vignes in Fitou. I do not know at all. Obviously worth a visit.
Domaine de la Rectorie – A wonderfully creative and pioneering estate in Collioure. Also makes fabulous white wines.
Domaine Borie-la-Vitarele – Rich heady style; wines that make an impact.
Domaine Matassa – Tom Lubbe is another of the Calce band – with some lovely wines.
Domaine du Pas de l’Escalette – one of the newer estates of the Terrasses du Larzac. I like Julien and Delphine’s white wines even more than their reds.
Domaine le Roc des Anges – in deepest Roussillon and on my list for a visit
Domaine Sarda-Malet – I first met an elderly M. Malet in the mid-80s when he produced the most wonderful Rivesaltes, and although I have tasted the wines since, I am insufficiently familiar with their red wines to comment.
Domaine le Conte des Floris. For my taste buds, Daniel le Conte des Floris makes even finer white than reds.
Domaine la Cazenove in Roussillon - I remember enjoying Etienne Montès’ wines when I was book researching in the mid-90s. And I am obviously overdue another visit
Domaine Bertrand-Berge – I’ve tasted and enjoyed their wines from time to time at the Salon des Vignerons Independents in Paris. A cellar visit is on the cards.
Château Ollieux-Romanis – Makes some lovely rich Corbières.
Domaine le Soula – One of the pioneering estates of the Côtes Catalanes. Possibly even better whites than reds.
Mas de Martin – The name is vaguely familiar, but I have no actual experience of the wines.
And coming in at no. 40 is Coume del Mas in Collioure. I’ve tasted their wines from time to time, but have no firm impression.
A classification like this obviously begs the question: who else would you include? RVF were clever to impose a ten year old wine as that eliminated a whole raft of newer names, and such is the pace of change in the Languedoc that there are newer names that you might consider for inclusion in a classification. A few that come to mind, in no particular order, and with apologies for a list are : Domaine Cazes in Roussillon, Ollier Taillefer and Cébène in Faugères, Trillol and Grand Crès in Corbières, Cabrol in Cabardès, Clos Centeilles and Ste. Eulalie in the Minervois, Rouquette-sur-Mer, Anglès and Mas de Soleilla in La Clape, Clos du Serre and Mas de l’Ecriture in the Terrasses du Larzac, Clovallon in the Haut Vallée de l’Orb for Pinot Noir and in the Pic St. Loup l’Hortus and Valflaunès. Has anyone any other suggestions?