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Page Two of Languedoc

Languedoc produces light, refreshing whites. This being the south of France, rosés, of course, play a role. But Languedoc’s most important wines are robust, full-bodied reds, often a combination of at least three grape varieties, most typically Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and/or Carignan. These wines are not infrequently distinguished by garrigue, a mix of the juniper, pine, thyme, lavender and rosemary that grows near the vineyards and scents the air and the wines.

Dessert wines are called vins doux naturels, or naturally sweet wines. They include fortified muscats — including Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois and Muscat de Rivesaltes — and the red, Port-like Banyuls, based on Grenache.

There are two main categories of wine. Vins de Pays d’Oc, aka table wines or country wines, are usually unblended wines labeled by varietal made from international grapes including Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for the whites and Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir for the reds. But because some of the more innovative winemakers occasionally want to avoid AOC (Appellation Contrôlée) regulations, their wines also fall into this designation from time to time.

The AOC wines, which are often more complex and generally considered a step up, are usually blends bubbling over with character and terroir, a sense of place. White grapes include Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Marsanne, Mauzac, Muscat, Roussanne, Picpoul de Pinet and Rolle (aka Vermentino); reds include Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Syrah. These wines are named for the subregions. Appellations to look for include Banyuls, Corbières, Faugères, St-Chinian, Coteaux du Languedoc (which, starting in 2007, is just Languedoc), Limoux and Minervois.

If quality, value and variety are what you’re after, you’ll want to become better acquainted with wines from the Languedoc. The region features plenty of all three.

RECOMMENDED WINES:

Antech “Cuvée Françoise” Blanquette de Limoux NV ($12): Elegant, versatile, light and lovely with floral, white fruit (especially pear) aromas and flavors.

Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Semi-Sweet 2004 ($13): You can count on Saint Hilaire for brut, extra dry and semi-sweet sparkling wines that are high quality and good values. This semi-sweet is equivalent to a demi-sec Champagne. Superstar wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. once compared Saint-Hilaire’s bubblies to good-quality nonvintage Champagne — at a third the price!

Laurent Miquel Viognier Nord Sud Vin de Pays d’Oc 2007 ($12): This elegant Viognier, from a Viognier specialist, has aromas and flavors of flowers, peach, apricot, orange blossom and citrus. Nord Sud refers to the north-south orientation of the vines, which protects the grapes from the searing rays of the midday Mediterranean sun.

Château de Jau Le JaJa de Jau Syrah Vin de Pays d’Oc 2007 ($10): You’ll find berry, plum and blackcurrant aromas and flavors in this peppery Syrah. Jaja is slang for the region’s everyday quaffs. Château de Jau produces a wide range of them.

Laroche Merlot Vin de Pays d’Oc 2005 ($10): Michel Laroche, whose family has been making wine in Burgundy since 1850, branched out to the Languedoc in 1995, where he makes a bevy of very good wines. This bottling features red fruit flavors and a bit of pepper.

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