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Bonjour! Did you know that the Languedoc is France’s largest grape producing region and it has been since Roman times? In fact, the vineyards flooded the landscape on just about every drive we took. According to Angela Murrills, author of Hot Sun Cool Shadow in which she writes about the region, it is the world’s most colossal vineyard stretching from the Banyuls appellation close to the Spanish border to the tiny region just west of the Rhone where the Clairette grape – once the leading white grape of the region – is still grown. Vineyards here are dated back to the 6th century BC where the Greeks and Etruscans were their guardians.

One of my traveling companions had researched wine tours and struck gold with the company we hired to introduce us to French wine. Vin & Company,(www.aerobus-hautevallee,com) out of Limoux, provided us with an expert guide and chauffeur, Jean Luc, who not only knew his wines but imparted some history of the region as well. Our first stop, Domaine Gayda. This wine is made to show off the flavors of the fruit and does not have a taste of oak. Fairly new and modern, it is modeled after a high end Napa winery compete with a top notch restaurant.

Stunning vineyards of picturesque Domaine Gayda

We learned here that roses are sensitive to diseases that can plague the grapes so it is traditional to plant them at the front of the grape rows. If a disease were to strike, the roses would be affected first, therefore alerting the growers of a potential disaster.

Protectors of the grape!

An extensive tasting gave me an appreciation for this region of France’s fine wines which, disappointingly, are very difficult to locate in the U.S. Of the three vineyards we visited, none of them import to us, not even Domaine Gayda, which produces 800,000 bottles a year.

Bonnie, Nancy, Jean Luc and Liz all enjoying the Viognier Blance 2011. From Jean Luc we learned that “the flavors visit your entire mouth.”

Gayda’s showcase wine tasting room. They spare no expense. We must have tasted eight wines!

Our tour included lunch worthy of many stars in Gayda’s beautiful restaurant with views of the vineyards.

Elegant and classy Tortillas thon rouge de mediterranee

Filet de Sebaste au fenouil et coulis de Piquillos

Sable a l’ananas (pineapple) et sirop de café – exquisite! Who would have thought of combining pineapple and coffee?

Can’t you just taste all these fresh ingredients? My mouth waters just remembering the flavors!

Chateau Guilhem was built in 1851 and has been a family winery for five generations. Bertrand Gourdou is the charming (and handsome) owner who manages the 400,000 acres. He is proud that his wine represents the style of the land and that his organic winery is one of the top 30 wineries in the Languedoc.

Family wines for five generations in a charming, rustic setting.

What I found most interesting about this winery is that Bertrand’s great, great-grandfather used oak barrels to age the wine. His great-grandfather used concrete – isn’t that amazing? Grandfather used stainless and now he is back to using concrete.

Here Bertrand is showing us how his grandfathers made wine. The stainless steel tanks are on the left and the concrete on the right.

The old barn full of relics and antique copper – my favorite. The concrete cellars are just below.

Jean Luc admiring the old concrete cellars. Don’t worry – they don’t make wine here now!

Our host Bertrand gets the show going! We loved his wines which are made from the heart.

To take a break from the wine, we stopped in a beautiful abbey and church, Notre Dame de Marsaille for a taste of Roman and mid 16th century history.

The ancient columns all embrace a variety of carving.

A black Virgin, so unusual and a stunning find! I saw one in Rocamadour last year.

The translation on this wall clock is a lesson to live by. “The hours that pass will never come back.”

Jean Luc surprised us with a bottle of Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling wine which the French call a “neursthenique” which means good for depression! In 1531 the Monks of Limoux discovered how the keep the bubbles and were truly the forebearers of champagne.

By 5:00 we thought we had seen and experienced so much of the vine but no, there was more. Our last stop at Villarzens enchanted us all and we fell in love with this petite 3 hectacre vineyard.

By Thierry’s face, the proprietor of Villarzens, you can tell he loves the land.

Eva, Thierry’s wife, created a gourmet assortment of appetizers to complement the wine tasting. Especially delicious were the Boudin Noir sausage and apple bites. Superb!

Bonnie swooning over the Tarte au Aubergine (eggplant). The puff pastry crust, so thin and crispy with the thin slices of eggplant and tomato drizzled with olive oil, burst forth with freshness and a buttery crunch.

The owner and operator of Vin & Company, Alison,  said it best. ” The wine should vibrate in your mouth.” We were satiated with the delicate wine, the fresh food and the incredibly friendly and charming  people (the best part!) We were definitely vibrating! Thank you Jean Luc, especially, for sharing this quaint part of France and the Languedoc with us. You made this experience the highlight of our stay in this delightful region.