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Languedoc: Luxuriate in lovely French wine, minus luxury prices

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France and the French have a very distinct place in world history. Geopolitically, the country is remembered for a certain diminutive, Corsican emperor – and was curiously dismissed by Donald Rumsfeld as “Old Europe.” It’s epicurean and oenophilic exploits are perhaps even more notable: Escargot still sets the standard for making snails a gourmet dish.

But despite these enduring traits, when wine geeks are asked about the broad subject of French wine, their responses would be quite varied. Any unanimity about snails and politics becomes an animated staking of turf – or terroir. However, there would be some agreement regarding the regions Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and perhaps, the Rhône.

None of the above, however, can claim to be the single-biggest wine-producing region in the world. That designation goes to Languedoc-Roussillon – or, using considerably less energy: “Languedoc.” Often times, however, this southern French area might be dismissed by many “in the know” wine connoisseurs. Think of a jet-setting native of L.A., who might look out of the airplane window with disdain while passing over Indiana on the way to LaGuardia.

But, as many producers of tried-and-true varietals from familiar regions endure marketing and expenses and re-positioning efforts to attract skeptical consumers, some once-snubbed grapes are getting noticed again. Languedoc wines, especially the region’s red wines, might soon achieve the same esteem as those from the nearby Côtes-du-Rhône, or Provence.

“Languedoc reds often have a dry, earthy and spicy element,” says Timothy O’Donnell of Lush in Chicago’s Roscoe Village. He also notes the versatility of these “typically rustic” wines. He says they can be paired with grilled red meat and the more robust and gamey varieties of poultry.

Reasonable prices and Millennial validation/experimentation are puncturing the balloon of hot air that has hovered above the wine industry. Wine lovers and casual imbibers read this column not only expecting relief for their ledger balances, but the opportunity to find varietals and regions that aren’t always in the same old, banal wine conversations. Besides, a chance to belittle the phrase, “You get what you pay for” couldn’t be more fun – bottle open, glass in hand.

The following are a few Languedoc offerings at metro-Chicago retail stores:

Chateau Sainte Eulalie Plaisir d’Eulalie Minervois: When first sipped, it has an old-fashioned, earthy nature. But it also has an herbaceous element, and this aspect is contrasted by a hint of fruit-forward sweetness. Try it with deep-fried turkey (outside the air-conditioned house), with plenty of injected, savory seasonings; grilled quail would be a little less labor-intensive, but equally nice with this wine. $11.

M. Chapoutier “Les Vignes de Bila-Haut” Côtes du Roussillon-Villages: A well-toned wine, featuring some hefty tannin… and good structure. It should probably be restricted to pairings with grilled/roasted red meat. The palate of pronounced dark berries build into a fleshy – not flabby – crescendo of spice box and black pepper. There’s a nice smoky finish, too – which would be nice with hickory barbecue. $13.

Domaine Romilhac Corbieres: A little harder to find, but an example of how underestimating the Languedoc can be a mistake. Its aromas are of rosemary and black fruit, plus a brooding note of leather. The flavors are deep and dense, with blackberry and licorice, plus good tannins. Pair with steak au poivre. $15.

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