Across the globe many wine regions seem intent on carving themselves up, whether wine drinkers are interested or not. How many place names are we expected to remember? Languedoc, however, seems justified in trying to divvy itself up a bit. As a region it encompasses almost 500,000 acres of vineyards – more than many wine-producing countries. The Languedoc’s latest appellation is Pic Saint Loup, and it’s one worth memorizing.
You may have heard the name before. Languedoc has been test-driving a number of appellations for several years, so the name, allowing certain district’s names to appear on the label even if they weren’t yet ready to carry themselves as their own AOC, has been out there. While previously you would have seen “Languedoc-Pic Saint Loup” on labels, as of the current vintage that first word has been dropped, leaving Pic Saint Loup to stand alone.
The great challenge of Languedoc’s sub-districts is that they typically rely heavily on terroir to demonstrate their character, since they almost all consist of blends of the same set of grape varieties. Pic Saint Loup’s red wines may contain Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan, Morrastel, Counoise and Cinsaut. Corbières, not far away, allows the same varieties, along with the obscure Lledoner Pelut, Picquepoul Noir, and Terret Noir. The wines of Faugeres, another appellation nearby, are constructed from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsaut.
It’s not hard to see that wines from across these different Languedoc Crus are capable of lots of overlap in their blends. Pic Saint Loup does define itself in part by leaning on Syrah more heavily; 50% of the blend must be Syrah, and Grenache and/or Mourvedre are required components, not just options. The remaining varieties can not contribute more than 10% of the total. Rosé wines account for one-tenth of production – the appellation does not exist for white wines – and follow a similar recipe, though the minimum Syrah is lowered to 30%.
But in its premise an appellation is terroir, and Pic Saint Loup’s landscape does have some distinguishing characteristics. First of all, it’s the northernmost appellation within Languedoc, very near the Rhône, where Syrah is also dominant. Average temperatures are lower than elsewhere in the Languedoc, and the area does receive more rainfall as well.
That temperature is the result of elevation, as the region marks the beginning of a plateau, creating an elevated valley framed by two dramatic mountains, the Pic Saint Loup itself and the Montagne de l’Hortus. The average elevation is actually only 150m, but it’s enough to make a difference, especially in terms of cooling off at night. Soils are varied, with many areas of limestone and clay, and in a way that justifies the call for blending.
In general Pic Saint Loup wines are ripe, but structured, with firm tannins. They display a mix of berry notes and a touch of wild herbs, much like the garrigue notes one encounters in many Rhône wines. The latter may in the end be the distinguishing marker separating Pic Saint Loup wines from wines from other parts of the Languedoc. Time will tell, but it certainly came up in my notes much more frequently here. If that “pic”s you’re interest, look for examples from some of these producers:
Chateau De Lancyre
Chateau de Lascaux
Domaine de l’Hortus
Chateau la Roque
Bergerie du Capucin