Foncalieu: Keeping it fresh in the Languedoc

Peter Ranscombe is enchanted by the freshness of the white wines being produced in one of France’s most famous regions for reds – the Languedoc.

The Languedoc region in south-west France is famed for its red wines. Areas such as Corbières, Fitou and Minervois are renowned throughout the world for producing fruity and powerful reds that soak up the Mediterranean sun.

Yet the Languedoc has a softer side too. Alongside famous red grapes like grenache, syrah, carignan and cinsault, the region is also home to a broad range of whites too, including marsanne, vermentino and grenache blanc.

One of the biggest names in white wine production in the Languedoc is Foncalieu, a local co-operative that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Half of the co-op’s output is either white or rosé.

A recent tasting at the co-op’s stunning Château Haut Gléon in the aptly-named Vallée du Paradis in the Corbières area illustrated the diversity of white grapes being grow in the region – and the freshness that can be achieved by matching the right variety to the right soil on the right slope.

Mr international

Albarino hails from Galicia in north-west Spain, but its runaway success is prompting the variety to be planted in other regions around the world. A 2017 tank sample from grapes grown on the coolest plot in Foncalieu’s portfolio showed green apple and apricot flavours, developing into lemon on the finish, with a great balance between the fruit intensity and the acidity.

The grapes used to produce the co-op’s Le Versant Sauvignon come from two separate areas – for me, the fruit from Puichéric had more of a savoury character, with notes of nettle, while the Nissan wine had more concentrated fruit, with lemon, grapefruit and green pepper shining through. Both had the characteristic sauvignon blanc acidity, more familiar in the Loire or New Zealand or now even Chile or South Africa.

I wouldn’t have expected to find such a fresh chardonnay in the Languedoc, but the tank sample of Le Versant Chardonnay showed tingling acidity and a touch of white pepper. Green apple aromas on the nose developed into peach and apricot tones on the palate, with an almost saline tang.

The locals

All sorts of variations on the muscat grape are grown throughout the south of France, but Foncalieu uses the muscat a petits grains for its Ensedune Muscat Sec, which offered rose, peach, grape and green apple aromas, with the stone fruit coming through more strongly in the mouth. It was the texture that was most impressive, with the juice being left in contact with the skins to build up a rounder mouthfeel.

Texture was also the name of the game in Le Versant Viognier, my favourite wine from the tasting. Fresh peachy flavours were matched by a savoury lemon-rind element, with a textured feeling in the mouth too.

The 2017 Vermentino tank sample that will find its way into the blend for the Saint Chinian Petit Paradis almost stole the show for me though. Tonnes of pear drops and lemon sherbet on the nose, but much drier lemon flavours on the palate and a roundness from being fermented in barrels.

In the pink

I really enjoyed the 2016 Piquepoul Noir Rosé (£13.50, Noble Green) at a recent Sud de France tasting and it looks like the 2017 could be just as good, with its raspberry and citrus nose and its crisp acidity to balance the fruit on the palate.

In a similar vein, the tank sample of the grenache noir for Le Versant Grenache Rosé also struck a fine balance between its acidity and its strawberry flavours, throwing in a minty note too for good measure.

The syrah that will be blended with grenache to form the Château Puichéric Rosé had a deeper colour, with violets and blackcurrants on the nose and then more concentrated blackcurrant fruit on the palate. The acidity was searing and the body was surprisingly rounded for a rosé.

Tank samples are – by their very nature – fresh and fruity. Yet the potential being shown by Foncalieu’s 2017 line-up makes me want to explore them further when these bottles hit the shelves next year.