Pushing the Envelope


One of the great developments in the wine world in recent decades is the emergence of a new generation of innovative winemakers. While there’s a time and place for tradition, there’s much to be said for pushing the envelope. That’s easy in New World appellations, with their relaxed, anything goes wine culture. But Old World appellations tend to strictly regulate viticultural and production techniques, thereby discouraging innovation.

  • Where there’s a will there’s a way. Witness the tradition-be-damned attitude that brought us the Super Tuscan — producers abandoned traditional appellations and labeled their wines as a less prestigious but less restrictive appellation. Soon the brash newcomers eclipsed the old guard in prestige!

France’s Languedoc region, located on the Mediterranean coast just north of Spain, has become a hotbed of innovation. Its wine culture is more relaxed than tradition-bound regions such as Burgundy and Bordeaux, and consequently it has attracted talent from those regions. Unfortunately, although it’s France’s largest wine region, Languedoc is generally unfamiliar to American consumers. That will change as savvy consumers discover some great wines at bargain prices.

  • The key to finding fine wines in Languedoc is to know its six “cru” appellations: Faugères-Cru; Courbieres-Boutenac; Saint Chinian Berlou and Roquebrun; Minervois la Livinière; and La Clape.
  • We’ll look at La Clape today. It’s a hilly, windswept area covered with low scrub brush that imparts herbal “garrigue” notes to the wine. La Clape is hot and sunny, which translates to wines that are ripe and high alcohol. It produces mostly reds, and these are generally Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre (“GSM”) blends.
  • Gérard Bertrand is one of the new breed in Languedoc. He’s a former professional rugby player who took over the family vineyard after the untimely death of his father. He expanded the family business and adopted modern techniques, such as biodynamic viticulture. It’s been said that he put the Grands Vins of Languedoc on the map.

Our wine of the week is the Gérard Bertrand 2019 Château L’Hospitalet La Clape Grand Vin ($45 retail). This is an exciting wine – from the first sniff, you sense that there’s something special about it. There are delicious aromas of lush red fruit, blueberry, spice, and a whiff of chocolate. On the palate, it’s powerful, full-bodied, intense, and nicely balanced. There are notes of red fruit and blueberry, with silky tannins, a nice acidity for a hot climate wine, and the long finish was enchanting.

  • L’Hospitalet is a blend of 60 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache, and 10 percent Mourvèdre, aged in new oak barrels for twelve to sixteen months. The vineyard is located in a nature preserve overlooking the Mediterranean, and it’s certified biodynamic.
  • This wine demands to be accompanied by a hearty meal, and preferably decanted for an hour. A rack of lamb or a ribeye would be just the thing.

And now the sad ending to the story. When I found L’Hospitalet, I only bought one bottle; that tuned out to be poor judgment on my part. Several months passed before I tasted it, and now the local suppliers are sold out. Until next year’s next vintage is available, I’ll be trying more Languedoc Cru wines!