We had to set the alarm to get up early enough for today’s vineyard visit and wine-tasting session. These sessions, along with WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) certification are given by Matthew Stubbs, Master of Wine (yep, it’s a real title possessed by less than 300 people worldwide).
Originally from England, he’s been involved in the wine industry for over twenty years (most recently as the Head of Wine for Safeway UK) but after spending years on the retail side, he wanted to return to his heart’s desire….the experience of wine……so he and his family moved to Languedoc where he opened Vinécole (“Wine School”)……a place where he can share his knowledge of the area and the nuances of wine appreciation with eager students.
He gave us an overview of wine production in Languedoc-Rousillon…..the largest wine producing area in France……with more acres of wine vineyards than in all of California. Consumption of wine has decreased in France and Languedoc has responded by replacing its high-producing, low-quality grapes with lower-yield varietals. This is good news for us…..Languedoc is trying to overcome its cheap, table wine image by producing high-quality wines at low prices.
France has assigned appellations to most wine-producing regions…..wine made within these regions that conforms to specific requirements can be labeled “AOC” (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). We always thought this was the mark of a quality wine, but found out that’s not necessarily true. Winemakers in Languedoc are liberating themselves from the rigors of the AOC requirements by creatively blending wines from different AOC’s to make custom “Vin de Pays” (Wine of the Country).
We walked through the vineyard, learning more about wine grapes and the work that accompanies each of their seasons. Then we moved inside for a birds-eye view of winemaking…..the wine press, fermentation tanks, barrel aging and its effect on tannins
Then, of course, we moved on to the tasting room to put all of this new-found knowledge to work. After generous tastes of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cuvee Rouge (a full-bodied red blend), Cuvee Blanc (a complex, aromatic white blend), Chemin de Moscou (a balanced, rich red blend) and Selection Chenin Blanc (a sweet white made from grapes infected with “noble rot”), we decided it would benefit us (and anyone else on the road) if we stayed to have lunch at the winery’s restaurant.
The restaurant was bustling……with large parties filling most of its tables. The interior was contemporary but comfortable and the price was terrific….21.95 for three courses, with wine and coffee included. We started with Saumon Tartare accompanied by a fennel-dill salad topped with cavier……a crisp Sauvignon Blanc was their wine of choice. The main course, local pork served with a red wine reduction, purple potatoes and creamed pumpkin, was served with Cabernet Franc…..as was the Chocolate Tart we had for dessert. I would have taken a picture, but it seemed inappropriate….it was just too classy a place.
We drove home through the city of Limoux, known for Blanquette, a sparkling white wine created in the 1500’s by Benedictine monks in the nearby Abbey of St Hilaire. Locals say (and some historians agree) that Dom Pérignon was a monk here before moving to the Champagne region and popularising this method of wine making.
The afternoon sun was waning and, being totally sated from our tour and our lunch, we didn’t stop for a taste of their bubbly but we shall return…..oh yes, we shall return.
Tiny bubbles….in the wine, make me happy, make me feel fine