Discover Languedoc’s rising wine producers

Darren Smith takes a look at this bustling, burgeoning wine region and picks out some of Languedoc’s best bottles with a little help from award-winning wine producer Katie Jones.

Discover Languedoc's rising wine producers

Ink, leather, burnt rubber, headaches – these are the associations Languedoc wine used to inspire in me. True, this was mostly down to the wanton chugging of corner-shop Corbières at university, but it had a foundation in reality. For decades the Languedoc was scorned by the industry’s opinion-formers as the one true wellspring of rubbish wine – responsible for lakes of carignan-based vin de table that couldn’t even be spoken of in the same breath as the stuff from the main appellations of France.
But that was then. Times have changed, the Languedoc has changed – as a trip there to work on this year’s grape harvest has made shoutingly clear to me. The trip, to Domaine Jones on the border of Languedoc and Roussillon, confirmed for me what various talks and tastings have been suggesting for a good while: that the Languedoc is the most dynamic wine region in France right now, if not the world. 
Far from being a nation’s viticultural shame, it’s a region that now boasts 37 Appellations and Sub-Appellations d’Origine Contrôllée (AOCs) and more than 70 ‘Grand Cru’ vineyards. Crucially, it has also gained many enthusiastic supporters in the media (not least Jancis Robinson, the all-seeing, all-knowing imperatrix of wine commentary). They have helped to stir a passionate interest in Languedoc wines in consumers from Aarhus to Zhengzhou. 
What’s happened is that, in the last ten years or so, there has been a significant cultural shift. Historically, wine production in the Languedoc has been dominated by co-operatives, of which there is still a large, though diminishing number – about 300. While the co-ops were founded on good socialist ideals and are the focal point of many Languedoc communities, they vary hugely in winemaking standards and overall competence; generally, their way of working is to pool resources to produce average wine in staggering quantities. 
The co-ops are foundering for several reasons, all linked to globalisation. Firstly there’s the big slump in domestic consumption (the days where the average French person would drink a glass with lunch and a glass with dinner each day are long gone). Then there’s the pressure from cheap imports. Add to that the EU ‘vine pull’ scheme (designed either to stoke demand or to make way for other forms of agriculture), which has led to many vignerons pulling up their vines in return for a wedge of cash to retire on.  
All these factors have left many co-ops struggling to survive. They have also left a creative vacuum, which a growing number of enterprising outsiders are seeking to fill. Attracted by the lure of a rustic Mediterranean style of life and the prospect of super-cheap high-quality ancient vines (parcels of ancient Languedoc vines are being sold for as little as €3,000/ha; the average price for Bordeaux Superieur vineyards is about €25,000/ha) these outsiders have come in fizzing with new ideas, focusing on the global market and using organic or biodynamic production methods to make wines that appeal to the swaggering 21st-century wine drinker. 
Katie Jones, who owns the picturesque domaine I visited this summer, is just one such producer. She has 11 hectares of vines (carignan, grenache, syrah, muscat, maccabeu – some more than 100 years old) and produces some outstandingly fresh and elegant Fitou (red), grenache gris and muscat (both whites). Her wines have been making critics swoon – and winning awards – here, there and everywhere since her first vintage in 2009. But there are many more produers who, with every new vintage, are demonstrating the Languedoc’s true terroir potential. 
For us wine topers, what it boils down to is this: if you want fine French wine without the intimidating price-tag, look to the Languedoc. Of course, you will need to know where in the Languedoc to look – and it just so happens that I know an award-winning winemaker who can help you with that: 
Here are Katie Jones’s top 5 Languedoc wines:
**1. Domaine Sainte Rose Nuit Blanche Roussanne 2012 **
The roussanne grapes were picked at night to preserve the freshest fruit flavour (sugars in the grapes are more stable at cool night temperatures, generally meaning a more reliable fermentation). Oak-aged, the wine shows off exotic fruit aromas, with manadarin and a slight nuttiness on the palate. (Available from Majestic, £8.99).
**2. Domaine Sainte Rose Le Pinacle Syrah 2011 **
Top-range, super-rich but also clean-tasting. Aged in oak for 12 months and made in the Côtes Rôtie style of the Rhone Valley – so the syrah was co-fermented with a small amount of the white viognier grape. Decanter award-winner, raved about in the wine press. (Available direct from, £15.99/£95.94 for a box of six).
**3. Benjamin Darnault Picpoul de Pinet 2010 **
If you like sauvignon blanc, piquepoul (which means “lip stinger”, but don’t let that put you off!) is an excellent Languedoc alternative. Intensely fruity yet refreshingly crisp. Superb with shellfish. (Available from Naked Wines, £10.99)
**4. Antech Blanquette de Limoux Brut Nature **
The Languedoc’s answer to champagne, thought to be the oldest fizz in the world. ‘Brut nature’ is the driest of the dry – fewer than 3g of sugar per litre. It’s made without ‘dosage’ (the traditional way of making much sparkling wine is to add sugar and/or sweet wine to the grape juice following fermentation). A crisply refreshing aperitif. (Available from The Wine Society, £9.50)
**5. Waitrose Seriously Plummy Maury **
A lovely sweet grenache from Maury, where Katie bought her first Domaine Jones vines. Grenache is the main grape in the Maury sub-appellation. If you like pairing red wine with dark chocolate, you’ll love this. (Available from Waitrose, £10.99)
And as Languedoc wines are now among my absolute favourites, I feel I should add a couple more belters to Katie’s list: 
**Virgile Joly Saturne 2010 (red) **
From the Saint Saturnin Languedoc appellation and one of the most talked-about of the Languedoc’s winemakers. I’ve tried his whole range and found them all to be very good or excellent. Virgile says this Saturne, a blend of Grenache, syrah, carignan and cinsault, is most representative of his approach to winemaking, which I take to mean: packing all of the intensity of a southern French red while retaining a marked freshness. You’ll get faint liquorice spice and soft oak lightened by perfumed notes of violet, lavender… you’ll get a lot for your money. (Available from Borough Wines, £18)
**Château Rives-Blanques Le Limoux 2010 **
Château Rives-Blanques wines have a lot gold medals – too many to ignore. Le Limoux is made from a blend of mauzac, chenin blanc and chardonnay, so it’s a still version of the classic sparkling Limoux wine. Complex – apple, peach, honey, clove, herb – with refreshing acidity and a subtle background of oak. (Available from, £13.85)
And, of course, let’s not forget...
**Domaine Jones Fitou 2011**
I’m bound to choose this, but I do urge you to try it as an easy-drinking ‘way in’ to the new style of Languedoc wines. A grenache/syrah/carignan blend, this Fitou has much more bright fruit upfront than you might expect, complemented by lingering hints of pencil shaving-type spice and garrigue herb.
*For more information about Languedoc wines, including a list of the appellations and sub-appellations, visit*
*Find out about visiting Katie at Domaine Jones for the harvest or for wine tours at*
**Written by:** Darren Smith