Delightfully fresh, tempting young wines

ISACS is the founder and CEO of EnjoyGourmet, a leading gourmet digital (www.enjoygourmet.com.cn) and print media company in China. He has authored over a dozen wine and food books including the awarded ISACS Guides and other gourmet books and is a wine consultant to governments, wine regions and organizations. He also hosts wine events for leading organizations and companies throughout China. Contact John via jcolumn@enjoygourmet.com.

Reading today’s fun and informative iDeal feature by Li Anlan on instant foods, I’m reminded that there’s nothing instant or fast about making wines. Instead, the science and art of making fine wines is a time-consuming and difficult process that’s often compromised by the fickle ways of nature.

Even when the complicated process of winemaking is completed, many top wines need years of aging in the bottle before they reach their optimal time for drinking. But this isn’t always the case.

In fact, the great majority of all wines should be consumed relatively young. The most august Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscan, Piedmont, Rioja, Napa and other premium red, white and traditional method sparkling wines may indeed benefit from five or more years bottle-aging but these wines are still the exception rather than the rule. Most modern wines are best within three years of release when they retain their vibrant fruitiness and freshness.

Good young wines exist and one of the best regions to find them is Southern France.

Languedoc AC is located in the Midi region in the south of France and while the world’s toniest wines don’t originate from this region, many of France’s best value wines do.

The southern Mediterranean climate allows for good and even ripening of the grapes so Languedoc winemakers don’t have to be as selective with their fruit. The wild hillsides of Languedoc are filled with wild herbs and flowers that also contribute special flavors to the wines. Land prices are lower than other French regions and producers less famous.

All these factors mean Languedoc producers are able to make good wines at affordable prices. Something decidedly more difficult to achieve in Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Although recognition for quality wines is relatively new in Languedoc, the region has an ancient wine tradition. In the fifth century BC, long before the more celebrated wines regions of Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux cultivated wines, Greek traders in the South of France were making wines in and around what is present day Languedoc.

For most of its history wines from the region made good if not great wines, but the advent of the Industrial Age in the late 19th century had a decidedly negative impact on quality.

Languedoc started making huge quantities of cheap wines to fuel the thirsts of masses who toiled in factories or were conscripted into the growing military. Languedoc serviced the multitudes while Burgundy and Champagne satiated the more refined needs of wine connoisseurs.

During the last few decades of the 20th century, regions like Languedoc that produced cheap wines for local consumption suffered. The blue-collar market was shrinking and winemakers were forced to make better wines suitable for export.

Creative producers started making good quality, easy to drink wines from local white varieties like Vermentino, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier as well as red and rose wines from the Grenache, Mourvendre, Carignan and Cinsault varieties.

Languedoc winemakers also cultivate more recognized French grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

All these factors helped make Languedoc wines among the most distinctive, affordable and fun French wines. Languedoc successes are not limited to still wines, some mighty fine sparklers are also being made.

Limoux

The Languedoc sub-appellation of Limoux is in the eastern foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. The region’s climate features a unique combination of sunny Mediterranean and cooler Atlantic influences that lead to slow and long ripening seasons.

Blanquette de Limoux, Blanquette Methode Ancestrale and Cremant de Limoux are three different styles of traditional method sparklers.

My favorite Limoux producer is the family-owned winery Antech. The family has been making sparklers for six generations and the quality is comparable to the wines of famous Champagne houses but their prices are far more reasonable. Other recommended producers include Domaine Delmas, Gerard Bertrand, Michele Capdepon and Jean-Loius Denois.

The sparklers of Limoux are exceedingly food friendly matching well with many appetizers, seafood, pastas, white meats and cheeses. In China, I love matching these wines with Taiwanese style deep fried oysters, Cantonese style sea bass in soy sauce and scallions and Shanghai style river eels in brown sauce.

The bubblies of Limoux also stand up quite nicely to more spicy and pungent Chinese dishes like Hunan style intestines with chili peppers, Sichuan mapo tofu and Yunnan spicy sausages.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Varieties: Languedoc has the widest range of different grape varieties in France comprising both local and international grapes; in Limoux sparklers the Mauzac variety is often blended with Chardonnay and other international varieties.

Key term: When referring to sparkling wines, traditional method means the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle a process first done in Limoux.