A playful description on a wine list prompted us to order a glass of red — even though we had no clue about the producer or grape. The pour was from the Languedoc in the south of France, the world’s largest wine region, and Theresa Paopao of Ribelle in Brookline promised “lots of exotic red fruits and guava.” The general manager and beverage director also wrote on the wine list that after six years of bottle age, “it behaves like a tween!”
The wine, a 2008 Domaine Rimbert Saint-Chinian Berlou, has moved out of its youthful fruity phase, explained Paopao, and is on its way to developing the savory, nuanced notes of an older wine (hence the “tween” description). She is always looking for pours that offer good value and exceed expectations. She certainly found one.
Languedoc, long known as a wine lake supplying bulk reds to the rest of France, stretches the length of the Mediterranean coast from Nimes in the east to just shy of the border with Spain in the west. Winemaking there is undergoing reinvigoration, thanks in large part to independent producers who are reviving centuries-old family vineyards and investing in production apart from regional cooperatives. Distinctive bottles — mostly red, but also white, rose, and sparkling — are increasingly easy to find. Among Boston-area sommeliers, they seem to be favorites.
“Generally, I think of Languedoc reds as being very earthy and spicy,” says Paopao. The Rimbert offers a range of flavors that remind her of a white wine. Made mostly of carignan, with grenache and syrah rounding out the blend, this quaff is aged up to six months in old barrels, then spends two more years in bottle before it is released. The producer is coaxing out the best the land has to offer.
Winemaker Jean-Marie Rimbert wanted to stay in his native Provence, but land prices proved prohibitive. He worked for a producer east of Saint-Chinian, learning the potential of the region, before founding Domaine Rimbert in 1996. He was the first independent producer in the village of Berlou, located at a higher elevation than the rest of Saint-Chinian and known for its well-draining schist soil. Over the years, as other vignerons faltered, he purchased land. Today, Rimbert organically farms about 75 acres on 43 parcels. In each sip, you can almost taste the garrigue — the herb-tinged brushland — that characterizes his landscape.
Philippe Collin’s story is similar to Rimbert’s. Collin moved from his native Champagne region in search of less expensive land and set up in Limoux, in Languedoc’s cooler inland western flank. He drew on his family’s generations of expertise making sparkling wine in the traditional method. His cremant de Limoux, a sophisticated sparkler with chardonnay, chenin blanc, and pinot noir, costs a fraction of the price of Champagne.
Not every independent producer migrated from another region. In 1984, Jean-Benoit Cavalier, freshly armed with an agricultural engineering degree, took over vineyards located in Pic Saint Loup that had been in his family for 13 generations. He restructured Chateau de Lascaux and produces a lively white blend of vermentino, roussanne, marsanne, and viognier.
And Pierre Clavel, east of Montpellier, is continuing in the footsteps of his wine-historian father, Jean Clavel, making a mineral-driven Domaine Clavel rose of syrah and grenache that tastes pure and altogether refreshing.
If a sommelier promises you a French surprise in the glass, let’s hope she’s sending out one of these.
Domaine Collin Cremant de Limoux Brut Lovely sparkler offers biscuit and blanched almond aromas, fine streaming bubbles, and an expert balance of citrus, pear, and savory notes. Around $16. At Pairings Wine and Food, Winchester, 781-721-9463; Colonial Spirits, Acton, 978-263-7775.
Chateau de Lascaux Blanc 2012 This lively, well-crafted white suggests a hint of flint on the nose, and a tart palate infused with citrus, yellow apple, and mineral. One of our favorite whites of the summer. Around $18. At Boston Wine Exchange, Financial District, 617-422-0100; The Wine Bottega, North End, 617-227-6607.
Domaine Rimbert Saint-Chinian Berlou 2008 Sweet dried orange peel aromas overlie dense red fruit, tinged with scents of thyme and field herbs. An elegant profile of maturing red fruit includes a generous dollop of smooth tannins, citrus skin, and a white pepper finish. Around $21. At Boston Wine Exchange; Blanchards Wines & Spirits, West Roxbury, 617-327-1400.
Domaine Clavel “Mescladis” Pic Saint Loup 2013 Cool and mineral driven, this pale coppery rose offers red berries, wet stones, and a spritz of lemon peel. Tartness keeps things grounded in this refreshing pink. Around $13. At Berman’s Fine Wines & Spirits, Lexington, 781-862-0515; Social Wines, South Boston, 617-268-2974.