I’ve crossed over into Italy this week for a few days exploring the trails and beaches around Finale Ligure on the Ligurian coast.
|l’Hortus with the Pic in the background|
Before swapping baguettes for focaccia (I’m a big fan of the local Ligurian style focaccia with olives and stracchino cheese), I managed to sneak in a trip to one of the more picturesque appellations in the south of France – Pic Saint-Loup.
Located less than 20km from Montpellier, this little appellation centres around Pic Saint-Loup itself – a sharp edged, purple-gray limestone mountain that juts up into the sky and is visible from the centre of Montpellier.
While grapes have been grown in this part of the Languedoc since Roman times, it is only quite recently that this little appellation has really kicked on. Indeed I only twinged about the quality of this area are after spending numerous late nights at a few Montpellier bars (where Pic Saint-Loup vin is rightly celebrated).
The ‘specialness’ of these wines comes down to a combination of factors methinks, including the local microclimate – which is slightly cooler and wetter than the surrounding Coteaux du Languedoc – plus the rocky, sandy limestone pebble soils. Also, the appellation has some surprisingly rigid quality controls, dictating that the blend must be 90% Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (which weeds out the carignan); a minimum alcohol of 11.5% pre chaptilisation and a minimum vine age of seven years.
Couple that with a local focus on organic (or ‘bio’ as they call it locally) viticulture, plenty of old vines and some good small producers and no wonder this felt like a place on the up at very fair prices.
I visited two producers on my travels and, while harvest is well under way, both are quite easy to visit (unusual for France).
Domaine de l’Hortus was first cab off the rank and easily the standout producer, with their organically farmed vineyard literally in the shadow of the Pic and Montagne de l’Hortus. Their top wine – called the ‘Grande Cuvée’ – is a wonderfully spicy, deep and charismatic blend of 60% Syrah, 35% Mourvedre and 5% Grenache that carries that undefinable ‘garrigue’ smell of the Languedoc (which always reminds me of rosemary and tapenade, but that’s barely scratching the surface).
Crucially, it’s a full flavoured and rich savoury red, yet looks much more red fruited than something from further north in the Rhone. Sunnier, even. For circa €20 the 2013 managed to make into the the bag to come home (my customs bill is going to be massive). Oh and the whites are much more lithe than many local Coteaux du Languedoc examples, though the oak sticks out a little on the Grande Cuvée blend of Chardonnay and Viognier.
Right next door to l’Hortus is Mas Bruguiere, another organic estate with a backdrop of the Pic. Bruguiere, in contrast use all larger oak and eschew additions bar a little sulphur, resulting in a style that is more rustic, less polished than l’Hortus but with real character too. More garrigue in these bad boys, and with some of the wines landing for well under €15, good value too.
The only problem, sadly, with these Pic Saint-Loup wines is finding them in Australia. I’ve noticed that Francesoir (http://www.francesoirwineselections.com.au) have some of the l’Hortus wines available and I’d be sorely tempted to have a plunge, if just to taste what the best of the Languedoc can be like.
Meanwhile, the Italian Riviera awaits…
Nice pictures, Andrew. Eagerly waiting for the Italian Riviera log. 😉