New Cru: the cream of the Languedoc

Powerful words, ‘Grand Cru’. Referring to a wine or a vineyard of the highest quality, this tiny phrase bestows the stamp of greatness. In all the vineyards of Burgundy, one of the most outstanding wine regions of all, there are only 34 individual sites that have been officially certified Grand Cru. It is the individual plot, the terroir, that is given this distinction; over the years it has proven its potential to deliver superlative wines. Is it a bit early to be marking out the Crus of the Languedoc?

The earliest evidence of winemaking in Burgundy dates back to the 2nd century AD, but it probably goes back long before then. Vineyards first started to be marked out for quality in the 12th and 13th centuries by Cistercian monks, who were given their first vineyard in 1098 by the Duke of Burgundy. The first mention of the Pinot Noir grape (the only red grape used in good quality Burgundy) was in the 1370s.

Evidence of grape growing in the Languedoc region in the south of France also goes back centuries, dating back as far as 125 BC. But here the similarities end. In terms of mapping out the terroir, it is still early days. By the mid 19th century, there was an increasing distinction between the better quality vineyards on the hillsides compared with those on the flat, but most of the principal appellations were only drawn up in the 1980s. The first Languedoc Cru, Minervois La Livinière, was officially sanctioned as recently as 1999. There are many red grapes grown in this region, but the principle ones are Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. Carignan is the oldest of these, though it may be as recently as the 1960s that it was planted in the Languedoc, being brought from Spain via Algeria. Cinsault followed in the 1970s, the others in the 80s.

Compared with Burgundy, the Languedoc is a relative beginner to ‘fine wine’ production. By marking out the boundaries of the best vineyards centuries ago, Burgundy has had ample time to prove that the intrinsic quality in the wines comes from the vineyard, not the individual grower. Many hands have ploughed, pruned and crushed through the centuries; the potential for quality has remained. ‘Fine wine’ making in the Languedoc is a relatively recent pursuit, using grapes which are newcomers to this land. The Languedoc are using the simpler term ‘Cru’ rather than ‘Grand Cru’ on their labels, but it is still a step towards further carving up the current appellations to highlight top quality terroirs.

Given its relative infancy in fine wine-making, I wonder if the land has had sufficient time to prove itself worthy of Cru status, implying an inherent quality that transcends the skill of those who work the land. After all, local winemakers have only been working with these new varieties for the past few decades. What is more certain is that creating these new Crus will bring some focussed attention to this enormous swathe of very varied vine growing terrain.

With many appellations still difficult to tell apart at a blind tasting, it might be argued that each one ought to forge its own character before further dividing them up into Crus. However, with Crus being identified, perhaps this will in fact accelerate the clarification of each different appellation’s unique properties by giving them an ideal at which to aim.

The reputation of a region or an appellation can have a big influence on the amount a producer can charge for his or her wine. The Languedoc has long had the reputation of being a source of some good value bottles, and it still is. For those making really excellent stuff, this reputation can hold them back from charging a higher price, as the wine buying public often aren’t prepared to pay high prices for a Corbières or a Saint Chinian, no matter the quality. So these Cru appellations could help producers charge more – which, given the quality of some of the wines being produced here now, is entirely fair. Some winemakers, like Jean-François Izarn from the excellent Borie la Vitarèle in Saint Chinian, still insist that it is the estate that counts above all: “the most important thing is people”. It remains true that, in the Languedoc as in Burgundy, the most reliable indicator of quality is the name of the domaine.

Winemaking in the Languedoc has come on in leaps and bounds over the past ten years, and now there are a good number of estates across many AOCs making excellent wines. Some fall into the newly designated Crus or the nascent ‘Terroirs d’Exceptions’ and some don’t. The Languedoc is still young when it comes to making fine wine, and it feels very early to be demarcating Crus based on this short history. But if they serve to bring more attention to some of these estates, that’s good for the wine lover and good for the producer. As our knowledge of the region improves, it will be important that the appellation authorities are willing to amend the boundaries of these Crus where it is right to do so. But if you wait until the time is right before you begin, you wait forever.


How the new Languedoc appellation system works:


Their Cru system is unique in as much as there is a kind of ‘boot camp’ level at which wannabe Crus need to sit before they have proved themselves as exceptional and can be promoted. The levels are as follows:

1. At the top, the Cru appellations – of which there are four so far in total:

AOC Corbières – Boutenac
AOC Minervois – La Livinière
AOC Saint Chinian – Roquebrun
AOC Saint Chinian – Berlou


    • When specific sub-regions have asked to be approved as Crus, they are known as ‘Terroirs d’Exception’ and can state their name on the label, but remain in their lower AOCs until they are promoted. There are nine at present: La Clape, Grès de Montpellier, Limoux (still whites), Montpeyroux, Pézenas, Pic Saint-Loup, Saint-Drézéry, Saint-Georges-d’Orques and Terrasses du Larzac. Next to be promoted? I’d put my money on Pic St Loup, La Clape or Terrasses du Larzac…


2. The next step down are known as “grands vins” appellations – for example :

AOC Corbières
AOC Faugères
AOC Fitou
AOC Cabardès
AOC Malepère
AOC Minervois
AOC Clairette du Languedoc
AOC Limoux (sparkling and reds)


3. At the base, the regional appellation

AOC Languedoc


Important details on the juice from another World Class Cru:



Some great examples of wines from Languedoc Crus or Terroirs d’Exceptions:


Mas de la Seranne, ‘Le Clos des Immortelles’, 2009
A blend of 25% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 25% Carignan and 25% Mourvèdre grapes from Terrasses du Larzac, Languedoc, France
The 2008 is available at Tanners at £14.60  (notes below are for the 2009)

Young and vibrant blueberry fruit, very spicy nose. Soft tannins, good acidity. Not hugely long or that complex but very appealing and drinkable. 90 points.

Château Cesseras, 2008
A blend of 70% Syrah, 10% Carignan, 10% Grenache and 10% Mourvèdre grapes from Minervois La Livinière, Languedoc, France
£14.95 available at Berry Brothers & Rudd

Damson and peppery spice on the nose. Lovely smooth texture with zingy, fruity acidity. Long and pure, just about keeping its alcohol levels in balance. 90 points, good value (the 2009 is even better if you can find it).

Château de Caraguilhes, ‘Solus’, 2009
A blend of 40% Carignan, 30% Syrah and 30% Mourvèdre grapes from Corbières Boutenac, Languedoc, France
£15.00 available at Villeneuve Wines

Intense dark fruit and spice with a little hint of something vegetal. Sappy pine and cola flavours from the new oak, with some cocoa and rosemary undertones. Full-bodied, rich and oaky. Very silky tannins and quite pronounced acidity. Good length, grippy finish. 90 points, good value.

Domaine de Montcalmès 2007
A blend of 60% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 20% Mourvèdre grapes from Terrasses du Larzac, Languedoc, France
£20.05 available at

Deep and very spicy rich, ripe fruit. Aromatic, with hints of tobacco. Intense fruit on the palate with firm, chewy tannins. Ample balancing acidity. Lovely balance of aromatics and fruitiness. Wonderful harmony and restraint. Good ageing potential. This is brilliant. 94 points, good value.



The trip referred to in this post was kindly organised and paid for by Westbury Communications.