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09 May 2012

Languedoc: Terrasses du Larzac and Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

Mas des Brousses, Puéchabon
From masdesbrousses.fr
Toasted as the darling of a clutch of new Languedoc village subzones, Terrasses du Larzac was officially created in 2005 although the name has been used for much longer than that. The appellation's northern and eastern borders, flanked by the raw landscape painted by the Causse du Larzacare shaped by a variety of ranges, foothills, natural terraces, sheer cliffs and scrubland that form the bottom end of the Massif Central mountains. The Hérault River runs silently and roughly through the middle of it, and the terrain then dramatically climbs from here heading northwards (take the A75 motorway towards Millau sometime and be wowed by the view).
However, despite all this terrace talk, vines are planted at from below 50 metres above sea level to over 300 (165 to nearly 1000 feet); so to pretend this is all some kind of unique and homogeneous "high-altitude" appellation is a bit of a nonsense. It also takes in over 30 villages (though there probably aren't vineyards planted around all of them) spanning a pretty sizeable area, including the following perhaps best-known ones: Aniane, Gignac, Jonquières, Montpeyroux, Puéchabon, Saint-André-de-Sangonis, Saint-Félix-de-Lodez, Saint-Jean-de-Fos, Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière and Saint-Saturnin-de-Lucian. In addition, certain of these places have created their own village sub-sub-zone (well, the winemakers there I mean obviously), e.g. Montpeyroux and Saint-Saturnin (see some of the winery links below).
See where I'm heading with this quasi rant? Well, I understand the logic of trying to parcel up the enormous Languedoc wine-lands to highlight the best areas, producers and wines. And agree in principle, as long as you make it mean something by creating distinctive statement wines from a relatively small area, and get the message across successfully to wine lovers looking for hot new bottles to try (the tricky bit in a world awash with names of wine regions nobody's heard of or really cares about at the end of the day). But, having sampled my way through a table full of reds from several vintages from Larzac in the Languedoc at their recent "Millésimes en Languedoc" showcase week, I found myself a little disappointed compared to what I tried there two years before (I didn't feature this area's wines last time: see blog archive April-May 2011) and in situ or elsewhere on other occasions.
I ended up excluding quite a few wines out of the total tasted, as they just weren't exciting enough to include or, worse, weren't very good. Admittedly, as is always the case / problem with this sort of event and line-up where it's up to the wineries to submit samples, a few top names were conspicuous by their absence, as I've commented on before. However, certain familiar estates did stand out nicely, such as Mas des Brousses, Mas des Chimeres or Clos du Serre; as well as not so familiar (to me at least), Domaine des Cres Ricards for instance.
I also see Gérard Bertrand, one of the Languedoc's biggest privately owned wineries and vineyard owners and a name some winegrowers like to dislike (although they wouldn't say so publicly of course), has landed in the Larzac zone with his purchase of La Sauvageonne, and its excellent track record over the past few years, up in Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière, which is a remote hilly village definitely on the higher side with its remarkable elevated and very stoney terraces.
Over to the wines then: here's my top 20 TDL reds. Some of the 2010s weren't finished samples, but it's looking very promising as a vintage in this area and overall in the Languedoc. Generally, Syrah, Grenache and/or Mourvèdre are the main varieties used here, although certain producers feature old Carignan or Cinsualt in the blend too.

2008 Domaine de Brunet Mas Brunet Prestige - quite forward with ripe liquorice, scented garrigue and spicy Grenache style; good palate and balance with a bit of bite and freshness vs 'sweet' fruit and rounder mouth-feel. Nice now.


Mas de la Seranne Antonin et Louis - perfumed floral nose with spicy liquorice and black fruits, touch of oak but not too much, grippy vs textured with light oak grain, powerful finish layered with 'sweet' fruit.
Les Conquetes Les Innocents - quite rich and lush with herby edges, 'sweet' liquorice and black fruits, drinking quite well now with underlying oomph vs rounded palate vs attractive ripe fruit.
Quinquarlet / Familongue L'Esprit de la Bastide aux Oliviers - very ripe smoky and 'resiny' with savoury edges, chunky tannins vs dark and spicy fruit, dry finish with a bitter twist.
More Familongue here.
La Traversée - this is Gavin Grisfield's new venture, former winemaker at La Sauvageonne. Shows enticing ripe dark fruit vs touch of coco oak, toasted chocolate tannins but it's concentrated, well-made and attractive (although a shade expensive at €30!).
Mas des Brousses Mataro (= Mourvèdre) - lovely scented black fruits and wild herbs, lush savoury vs sweet palate with a touch of oak grain vs rounded texture, liquorice spice and power to finish. Very good stuff.
Domaine Alexandrin Alex - perfumed ripe nose and palate, hints of vanilla oak with 'sweet' textured vs grippy mouth-feel, quite concentrated and punchy.
Quinquarlet 3 Naissances - dark plummy 'soy' vs herby notes, smoky and quite rich vs firm and dry, closes up a bit but should be good.
Les Chemins de Carabote Les Pierres qui chantent - perfumed garrigue and blackberry/cassis notes, nice mouthful of ripe vs spicy fruit, lush powerful and firm yet quite silky too somehow. Very good wine.
Plan de l'Homme Habilis - rich dark 'tar' tinged nose, lush palate with savoury edges, has fair grip yet rounded tannins, good fruit and depth.
Mas des Chimeres Caminarem - rustic ripe and peppery, lush fruit and tannin combo, a bit 'bretty' (rustic) perhaps but is concentrated and has tasty savoury/sweet profile.
Mas des Chimeres Nuitgrave - more savoury and developed, again showing nice dark fruit with those rustic edges; similar mouth-feel to above, tighter and less obvious perhaps although is drinking well at the same time.


Domaine des Cres Ricards Stécia - dark and smoky with a touch of sweet oak, concentrated and tasty, touches of oak grain vs rounded tannins, closes up with firm vs supple finish, nice depth and style. Very good.
Domaine des Cres Ricards Oenothera - smokier and richer perhaps, quite tight on the finish, chunky vs lush mouth-feel, nice balance and class.
Mas des Quernes Villa Romaine - pretty oaky start vs concentrated and lush palate, spicy with dry vs rounded vs grainy tannins, needs time to open up but should be good.
Le Clos du Serre Les Maros - a little closed up, firm concentrated and punchy with dark chocolate tannins vs a lot of depth too, slightly at sorts at the mo but it´s promising.
Previous vintages and profile on Clos du Serre HERE.
Mas des Brousses - quite firm and closed up, showing grainy oak vs lush and concentrated underneath; difficult to tell but there´s definitely something there with attractive sweet/savoury finish.
Quinquarlet la Bastide aux Oliviers - quite juicy fruity vs firm and tight, not very revealing although has good depth of fruit.
Gérard Bertrand La Sauvageonne Pica Broca - spicy herby black cherry notes, good concentration vs solid yet rounded, powerful finish with lingering sweet liquorice and spice, nice length and style.
Sauvageonne under previous management.

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert © OT SGVH

On a more cultural and historical note, if you're thinking of doing a little wine touring in this area, make sure you find time to have a stroll around the Mediaeval hilltop village of Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. With its magnificent Romanesque abbey (photo), sloping narrow cobbled (and car free) streets and awesome cliff-face backdrop, it's not far from some of the wine villages and estates mentioned above. Great drive too along the twisty Hérault river gorges, as you wind your way up there. Probably best avoided in the summer though, as it soon gets crowded with tourists. By the way, its name does indeed come from a certain noble warmonger Guilhem, who found his perfect isolated retreat here to study as a monk and founded the monastery in 804, which was rebuilt in the 11th Century on the same site. More @ saintguilhem-valleeherault.fr.


  1. Interesting in that Domaine des Cres Ricards was taken over by Paul Mas a couple of years ago. Sounds like improvements have been made - previously it was an honest but unexciting four-square red. It's sited where the soil of the river Herault's terraces start to become a bit too rich for fine wine.
    The terrasses are a geological feature in the Herault valley reflecting various river levels during the ice ages. Typically there is a flat section for a Km or two and then a notable step up of 10m- there's a good example just south of St Andre-de-Sangonis.

  2. Thanks Graham, I knew Jean-Claude Mas was also in this area now but didn't know / had forgotten it was Cres Ricards. Explains why I liked the wines probably, as he usually makes improvements for the better! And your second point perhaps exemplifies the "problem" with the appellation and resulting wines - there are a fair few vineyards planted on these flat bits of land yet the message is put across of terraces and hillside vineyards. Not that flat is necessarily bad but this typifies how these new subzones end up covering a much wider catch-all area than was probably first intended!



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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.