I’m tired of winter. And, I object to snow’s presence and frigid temperatures when the calendar declares it is spring. So, I’m thinking about the Languedoc.
This area in southern France is ringed by beaches along the Mediterranean Sea. At noon, people sit at umbrella-festooned cafes sipping the refreshing sparkling wines of Limoux and drink rose with grilled rouget, saint pierre and bowls of moules served with pommes frites.
I’m picturing the fields of lavender where the purplish flower tips shimmer in the hot sunshine, and groves of olive trees filled with fruit that will be crushed and liquefied into a thick, savory oil.
I see the hillside vineyards, lined in perfect rows, with medieval stone towns called “bastides” sitting at the top. And farther inland are the mountains with gorges, forceful rivers, ancient bridges, dotted with sheep and goat farms providing meat seasoned with rosemary for terrace-seated diners. And, as the cool evening mountain air flows towards the beachside cafes, plates of tangy and creamy cheeses are paired with the red and white wines of the Languedoc.
Along the Mediterranean coast and in Languedoc hills, are the vineyards and wines of 52-year-old Jean-Claude Mas. Cosmopolitan from a life of promoting food and wine while residing in London, Miami, Paris and Bordeaux—and a three-year stint in his 20s on the race car circuit—Mas was in his element as he presented a selection of his wines at a Manhattan bistro on a sun-drenched autumn day.
In 1531, Benedictine monks at Languedoc’s Saint-Hilaire abbey, in the village of Limoux, recorded making sparkling wine. This was 137 years before the 22-year-old Benedictine monk Dom Perignon arrived at the Abbey of Hautvillers in the Champagne region, where poorly made still wine was the fare. Ironically, it is Dom Perignon who is world renowned for the Champagne bearing his name, while the sparkling wine, Saint-Hilaire, is known only to wine geeks.
But you don’t have to be a wine geek to appreciate the nonvintage Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux Rose. Its blend of 70 percent chardonnay, 20 percent chenin blanc and 10 percent pinot noir creates an eye-catching orange tint, and a very pleasing mild cherry aroma and flavor. Soft bubbles with mild acidity delivers balance, and the 90 percent white grapes leave a delightful citrus-like taste in the off-dry finish. It’s the perfect good-value sparkling wine aperitif. 88 points. Retail pricing has a wide range from $13 to $18.
Jean-Claude took the reins of his family’s wine business, Domaines Paul Mas, in 2000. It was built on the foundation of Chateau Paul Mas, named for his father who was the first winemaker in his family. Today there are 12 estates in the portfolio spread across the Languedoc; some are fully organic, or biodynamic farmed, while others are in the transition stage. And Mas is experimenting with making and marketing non-sulphite wines, too.
The 2015 Chateau Paul Mas Belluguette captured the vintage’s sunshine in its rich fruit aroma and flavor. Made from a blend of vermentino, roussanne, grenache and viognier, it has intense floral, vanilla and tropical fruit characteristics that these grapes develop in the sunny Languedoc climate. This full-bodied wine demands a chilled summer dish of Israeli couscous, diced cucumber, cubed poached or grilled salmon, fragmented basil, cherry tomatoes halved, and nicoise olives dressed in a lemon-y vinaigrette. The wine receives 89 points (you rate the dish). Expect to pay about $20.
I like Mourvedre (more-VAY-dra). This dark, intensely aromatic- and-flavored grape grows in Spain, South Africa, Australia, and California. But I gravitate to its version in the Languedoc and Roussillon appellations. In this area, it has a deep mulberry, blackberry color, black fruit and herbal aromas and flavors, along with a red-meat taste ranging from beef to squab pigeon. The 2014 Chateau Paul Mas Clos de Savignac was spot on.
In the Clos de Savignac, a seven-acre hillside vineyard six miles from the Mediterranean Sea, mourvedre grows alongside plots of syrah and grenache. The trio are blended, with mourvedre being half, syrah 30 percent and grenache 20 percent. The combination gives the 2014 Clos de Savignac a black-cherry color, and aromas marked by syrah’s black-pepper spice and mourvedre’s blackberry trait with a bouquet of rosemary, thyme and sage.
The 2014 Chateau Paul Mas Clos de Savignac’s full body, with delicious blackberry, black pepper and roast beef and lamb flavors were supported with integrated tannins and palate cleansing acidity. It will be stunning with grilled lamb chops or steaks served with rosemary-scented roasted potatoes. 94 points. Expect to pay a very reasonable $20 to $23.
Slightly lighter on the palate but packing a punch is the 2014 Chateau Paul Mas Clos des Mures. It’s syrah driven with 10 percent grenache and 5 percent mourvedre. If its pronounced black-pepper, blackberry, rosemary and oregano scents were transformed into sound, it would be a Latin brass band. “Mures,” which means blackberry in French, is front-and-center on the palate. Sliding behind it is a seasoning of black pepper and rosemary flavors that give the 2014 Clos des Mures a powerful impact for a medium-body wine. Its mineral, stony backbone backs up the rich fruit providing balance and length. Try this excellent wine with barbecued chicken legs, or grilled pork chops marinated in Korean black-bean paste with garlic, soy and rice wine. 92 points. Expect to pay a very reasonable $16 to $20.
This tasting lifted winter’s veil, if only for an afternoon. Perhaps Domaines Paul Mas can do the same for you, too.
Photos: John Foy