Languedoc: Superb, Affordable French Wines Not to Be Missed

11/17/2011 08:02 am ET

Crisp sparkling wines, oak-aged whites, mild rosés, and spicy reds were center stage when the first Languedoc Ambassadors Tour, hosted by the Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Languedoc, arrived in Chicago. Hosted at the famously vino-friendly Avec Restaurant, the Tour presented 28 distinctive wines, selected in a blind tasting by a jury of American sommeliers.

Languedoc is France's largest wine region, featuring 22 appellations and producing nearly 70 percent of France's organic wine. Located along the Mediterranean Sea in south central France, Languedoc is a sunny, pastoral province with a history in wine that dates back to the fifth century B.C. In fact, Blanquette de Limoux, one of the region's prominent sparkling white wines, is thought to be one of the oldest sparkling wines in the world (predating Champagne by a full century), initially created by Benedictine monks nearly 500 years ago. The 2005 Saint Hilaire Aimery Sieur d'Arques, a crisp, clean sparkling wine with distinct notes of apple, is a delightful, economical alternative to Champagne, available for $12.99 at Chicago-area retailers like Binny's and Sam's Club.

Americans seeking an off-the-beaten-path white wine will find the light, fruity 2007 Domaine Félines Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet a refreshing and affordable addition to their collection (and, at $10.99 a bottle, a bargain). Made with 100% Piquepoul grapes (a highly acidic grape with both light and dark-skinned varieties), the Picpoul de Pinet is aged for three months in stainless steel tanks to maximize the natural fruit flavor.

For a very light, mild rosé, the 2007 Chateau La Villatade Minervois Rosé, 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, is a perfect compliment to strong, flavorful foods, such as red onion and cilantro. Retail for this rosé is a reasonable $15.

An exceptional, superior red is found in the 2004 Chateau Cabezac Cuvée Arthur, with nutty aromas, hints of black currant and a spicy, pepper finish. A blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Grenache, the Cuvée Arthur is a phenomenal partner for lamb, grilled meats, and French cheeses. Retailing for $24.99, this wine should be purchased now; it won't remain a secret for long.

For a dessert wine, the 2007 Clos du Gravillas Douce Providence is a silky, sweet muscat that leaves a surprisingly clean finish. Fortified with pure grape spirits and made from 100% Muscat Blan a Petitt Grains, this Muscat is being imported in the U.S. by K&L wines (price not yet determined).

The 2007 Languedoc vintages are quite good, but the winemakers agree that the forthcoming 2008 vintage will be exceptional.