Pays d’Oc – where 56 grape varieties are the spice of life

THERE’S a part of France which almost thinks its the New World when it comes to wine-making. I’m talking Pays d’Oc.

Traditionally France – and other “old world” countries such as Spain and Italy – have historically developed wines based on local grape varieties, the local marketplace and as a match to local foods.

But in the Pays d’Oc IGP emphasis is also on the marketplace beyond its borders alongside the Mediterranean, with 200km of beaches and vineyards on inland sunny slopes.

We’re talking a huge amount of winemaking – in 2011 Pays d’Oc was the biggest exporter of French wine – and the fifth biggest world exporter of varietal wine.

But don’t for one minute think that the winemakers are jumping on one big export wagon and creating a wine industry to ring those cash tills. They’ve been making wines since the Greeks planted the vines and the Romans developed them.

Yes – the emphasis on quantity can override quality, but in Pays d’Oc there’s an undercurrent of improving standards and being proud of the many premium wines they now produce.

The region may be at the economic heart of the wine export market but wine-maker Jean-Claude Mas also stresses that “the Pays d’Oc IGP really is one of the most dynamic wine denominations, full of very talented young winemakers crafting unconventional and creative varietal and blended as well as organic, biodynamic and natural wines”.

Winemakers have championed wine from international grape varieties. There’s a huge number of varietal wines and blends, as 56 grape varieties are allowed under IGP regulations. Here’s a few:

  • Tourmanet Malbec Syrah 2010 (£5.75 The Wine Society, www.thewinesociety.com) is beautifully smooth with fresh raspberry flavours and a subtle liquorice taste on the finish to give it depth. Its freshness makes it very drinkable on its own. However, with all that southern sun stored up in the grapes, it goes well with Mediterranean tomato dishes – but it’s also robust enough to hold its own against a fiery chilli pasta sauce.
  • Vignobles Foncalieu, Le Versant Grenache Rosé Pays d’Oc IGP 2011, (£8.99, thesecretcellar.co.uk) is produced by the co-operative Foncalieu, which has been voted France’s Best Co-operative Winery 2012. It is an understated pink with strawberries, cherries, and cranberries to taste and on the nose. For a rosé it has quite a bit of depth coming from sun-loving grenache grapes.
  • Domaine Saint Hilaire, Advocate, Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2008, (£12.25 Slurp, www.slurp.co.uk) has an abv of 14% and isn’t backward in coming forward. The blend is traditionally from Bordeaux but this wine is packed with sun-soaked black fruits with layers of dark chocolate and autumn woodland.
  • Pays d'Oc, Domaine GaydaDomaine Gayda, Fugure Libre Cabernet Franc 2010 (£14.95, Leon Stolarski Fine Wines, www.lsfinewines.co.uk) – intense label, intense wine. Cherries, white pepper and mocha on the nose from this grape variety again typically seen in Bordeaux. Another with a warming alcohol effect of 14% and a peppery, savoury edge.
  • Domaine Les Yeuses, Syrah Les Epices 2010, (£7.49, Majestic, www.majestic.co.uk) is deep red with herbs, freshly cut green peppers and spice on the nose with cherries and black pepper to taste. More savoury than fruity but it goes to another level the day after opening – if you can save any that is.

First published in the Liverpool Post on March 17 2013