The Best French Wines

By / Wine + Drinks / November 18th, 2011 / 1

During the 2011 Millésimes en Languedoc event in France’s Midi, hundreds of wines from the 2008 and 2009 vintages were presented, plus a few dozen 2010 barrel samples. With so many wines, one can only stick to general impressions. Besides the fact that there were a number of excellent quality/price ratios, the 2008s appeared to be best drunk on their fruit, that is early on. They are in fact already at their best. The 2009s were concentrated, with great structure and aging potential to match. 2010 has inherited the best of the two preceding vintages. The wines showed near-perfect ripeness and balance, which is a promise of a good deal of elegance when they are finished and bottled.

During that intensive week of tastings, a new hierarchy was presented to the media that will, according to the CIVL (Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc), help guide consumers in their choices. Things will be simpler, they said, because all AOC wines will be grouped under one of three levels of quality. The top wines will be labelled “Grands Crus du Languedoc,” the middle section will be called “Grands Vins du Languedoc” and the rest will keep the existing “AOC Languedoc” name. Reactions in the audience were mixed.

In recent years, a number of new AOCs have been created in order to extract the best vineyards from the existing appellations. That led to a portion of Corbières now being called Corbières-Boutenac. The same thing happened to Minervois (La Livinière), while Saint-Chinian was split in three, introducing two new AOCs: Saint-Chinian Roquebrun and Saint-Chinian Berlou. This multiplication of appellations may be justifiable from a quality point of view, but it results in a complicating of the system and possible confusion in the consumer’s mind.

 

The vineyards mentioned above plus six others will be awarded the grand cru label, provided they comply to certain rules on maximum yield and winemaking practices. Another 20 appellations will make the grand vin club. Price ranges have been defined for each level, with a form of sanction for producers who sell their wines at a price above or below the set limits.

It is difficult for even a serious wine amateur to correctly remember all of the names of the newly created AOCs and tell them apart from brand names. Is Languedoc la Clape a grand cru? Yes. Is La Méjanelle just a brand name? No, it will become a grand vin. Create separate “buckets,” write it on the label and voilà!, according to the CIVL.

This may be fine if you remember that a grand cru should be a better wine than a grand vin. It may be easier if you happen to know that cru means growth. In other words, the wine has been made from vines planted on a designated site, an indication of its higher quality. You could also use the price as a guideline but you have to keep in mind that some producers won’t follow the rule. Why not use existing terms we are already familiar with, such as Burgundy’s example with its grand crus and premier crus?

So is this really a simplification or are they just adding another level of confusion? CIVL managing director Jérôme Villaret explained that campaigns will be launched to present the new hierarchy and that each level will have its own signature to help create an easy-to-recognize identity. Christine Molines, export manager at the CIVL, mentioned that Canada is a contrasted market; for example, their wines are doing very well in Québec, but Ontario is harder to penetrate. Their new initiative is an attempt to make their wines more appealing to wine drinkers here and elsewhere.

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