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Intriguing wines that are off the beaten track

Trying to scale back on your wine budget but still drink well? TODAY wine columnist Edward Deitch says it's worth considering bottles from the Languedoc region in the far south of France.
/ Source: TODAY

For great values in some intriguing wines from off the beaten track, it’s worth considering the Languedoc region in the far south of France. This large-production area near the Mediterranean Sea doesn’t get the same attention as some of France’s more famous wine sources such as the adjacent Rhone Valley, Bordeaux or Burgundy. And that’s exactly why the Languedoc should be part of your mix in these challenging times when you may be scaling back your wine budget but still want to drink very well.

There are many appellations that fall under the Languedoc umbrella, both red and white, and the two most familiar are Minervois and Corbières. Two others, which I’m going to focus on here, are Picpoul de Pinet, a white, and Saint-Chinian, a red. Both are sub-regions of the broader area called Coteaux du Languedoc.

It would be hard to find a more pleasing $10 white than the 2007 Picpoul de Pinet from Domaine Gaujal de Saint Bon. Picpoul is unusual in France in that the appellation is named for the grape variety (the little-known picpoul), in contrast to place names (Chablis, for example), that account for most French wine appellations.

Made without oak, this charming wine announces itself with mineral and citrus aromas. In the mouth, the minerals and a fresh acidity (picpoul means “lip-stinger,” in reference to the acidity) serve as a backdrop to notes of pear and lemon and touches of cream and spice. I enjoyed it even more as it warmed up a bit, revealing a complex and elegant wine that will serve nicely as an aperitif and will match well with fish and shellfish and mild cheeses. (Imported by Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)

On the other side of the Languedoc spectrum, try the 2005 Saint-Chinian “Le Mas au Schiste” from Domaine Rimbert. This deeply colored red has a real sense of place, or terroir, with its earth and mineral character combined with notes of cherry and blueberry, meat, herbs and a bit of eucalyptus.

The $15 wine is a blend of 40 percent carignane, 30 percent syrah and 30 percent grenache, grapes that are typical of the region, and the name Le Mas au Schiste refers to the schist soil of compressed clay and shale in which the grapes are grown and which gives the wine its mineral character. As I think back on this Saint-Chinian, my thoughts turn to the venison given to me the other day by a friend who hunts. The wine would go superbly with it as well as other game and hearty meat dishes. (Imported by Joli Vin Imports, Berkeley, Calif.)

Languedoc has come a long way in recent years to dispel the notion that it is mainly a source of cheap, undistinguished wine. Gaujal's Picpoul de Pinet and Rimbert's Saint-Chinian only underscore the point.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at