I Love French Wine and Food - A Midi Viognier
If you are looking for fine French wine and food, consider the Languedoc-Roussillon region of south central France. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local white Viognier.
Among the eleven wine-growing regions of France Languedoc-Roussillon ranks largest in actual area and is number four in wine grape acreage. This area, which includes the Midi, was once known for producing huge quantities of questionable quality wine called vin ordinaire. Now, however, in part due to the influence of Australian winemakers, the region is producing more and more fine wine. Like Alsace and unlike most other regions of France, many Languedoc-Roussillon wines, including the one reviewed below, indicate their grape variety on the label.
Don't think of this region as being uniform. For example, Languedoc is mostly flat, but Roussillon tends to be hilly. Furthermore, several select areas with their own unique combination of microclimate and soil (terroir) make their own AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controle) wines, which are usually more expensive. Sooner or later we'll be looking at some of these wines in our series. There are almost 50 AOC wine appellations in Languedoc-Roussillon; covering the entire range, red, white, rosé, sparkling, and sweet. This diversity is not surprising when you consider that the region grows over 30 grape varieties.
The Viognier grape was on the edge of extinction about forty years ago. At that time it was restricted to France with a grand total of about 35 acres. Times have changed and this grape is now grown in California, Italy, Australia, Chile, and Canada, with more countries on the way. The classic Viognier wines come from the Northern Rhone Valley of eastern France, but we probably won't be reviewing them because of their limited availability and high cost.
Of course the Languedoc-Roussillon region has many places to visit. Here we focus on the city of Carcassonne, population 45 thousand. Talk about location. This city lies on a hilltop on the route leading from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. And it's not far from the Spanish border. Small wonder that it dates back well over two thousand years. The Romans fortified it about 100 BC. Carcassonne has the longest standing city walls in all of Europe. Its name comes from Dame Carcas, who fed the last of the city's wheat to a pig in clear view of the French Emperor Charlemagne. He mistakenly believed that the besieged city was in no danger of starvation, and called off the siege.
The Aude River divides the fortified upper town, La Cité, from the newer lower town, La Basse Ville. The upper town is basically closed to private cars. Upper town sites worth seeing include the Bascilica of Sainte Nazaire, Museum of Chivalry, Arms and Archery, the Fortress, and the Museum of the Middle Ages, focusing on military history. The lower town has a fine arts museum and, in season (April to mid-November), an Australian Animal Preserve with kangaroos and emus.
Before reviewing the Languedoc-Roussillon wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Huitres de Bouzigues (Oysters from Bouzigues). For your second course savor Bourride (Fish with Aïoli, a local mayonnaise). And as dessert indulge yourself with Creme Colane (Dessert Cream with Lemon, Vanilla, and Dill Seed).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed Domaine des Salices Viognier 2005 13% about $12
Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. Over the past decade, Viognier has shown remarkable success in the vineyards of Languedoc-Roussillon (a.k.a., Midi). Once confined to vineyards in northern Rhône, today Viognier is thriving not just in the Midi, but throughout other warm climate regions around the world. Enjoy this fruity, low acid, aromatic wonder with lightly spiced seafood dishes, turkey breast or grilled salmon. My first meal consisted of baked chicken leg with the skin on in a medley of spices (garlic, onion, cumin, and uncharacteristically tame Moroccan Harissa), rice, and green beans.