FRENCH WINES & The HÉRAULT

 
The Hérault (pronounce like ''arrow'') department in the South of France, up until the past ten years or so, was not known as producing some of the best wines. Now the area of the Languedoc is becoming know throughout the world as producing some of the best wines in the world. The Languedoc is the world largest single wine producing region & now produces more than a third of the country's total wine production annually.
We found some of the best wines to come from the Co-Ops as low cost wines including A.O.C. & A.O.P. Many sell wines by the litre from large black or clear hoses coming out of the wall with a trigger on the end that strongly resembles an automobile fuelling hose. To purchase the wine this way, it is referred to as Vrac you should bring you own clean empty container to be filled. If you do not have a container, most Co-Ops that sell wine on Vrac will be glad to sell you a Bidon (pronounced like Bee-don) at a very reasonable price. The Bidons are available in 5 litre, 10 litre & sometimes you can find 20 litre. The Co-Op that I go to in Murviel-les-Béziers, will sell you a valve that fits the Bidon for 1€, called a Robinet (pronounced like Robe-in-aye). The prices for wine this way are usually around 1€ per litre, some even less & some a little more, but still under 2€s per litre.

A.O.C. Appellation d'origine contrôlée & A.O.P. Appellation d'origine protégée

The A.O.C. & A.O.P. are a government run agency of the I.N.A.O. Institut national de l'origine et de la qualité.
There are A.O.C.s & A.O.P.s for Wines, Cheeses, Butters, Beans, Meats, many types of Seafood & Many other other agricultural products.
For the Wines, there are the following classifications.

 
1. A.O.C. & A.O.P.:
The A.O.C. & A.O.P. certified label means that the wine meets the highest standards & very strict requirements. It is usually the best quality & best tasting.
The requirements usually include:
• Taste! The wine is tasted by A.O.C. & A.O.P. official tasters that are looking for many characteristics, such as Dryness, Fruitiness, Richness, Aroma, Color & the way it clings to the side of the glass when swirled.
• Alcohol Percent Levels (known here as degree, i.e. 12° for 12%).
• Methods of Harvesting, such as by Hand or by Machine (see below).
• Methods of Production, such as fermented in Oak cask or being allowed to add Oak chips to simulate being aged in Oak cask. The use of Oak chips is frowned on by most A.O.C.s & A.O.P.s, but is allowed by some.
• Consistency, remaining constant in flavor, quality & characteristics over a period of years.
• Grape Varieties, Carignan, Carignan Blanc, Chardonnays, Cinsault, Clairette, Grenache, Mourvedre, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Syrah (Shiraz), Terret & Many more.
• Blend percentages of the allowed varieties, giving you many wonderful wines such as Ross, Tokays, & more.
• The soils, Bauxite, Chalk, Clay, Limestone, Sandstone, Schiste & more.
• Age of the vines.
• Density of the crop, how close the vines are growing to each other.
(I am sure there are many more restrictions that I am not aware of.)
 
2. Vin de Pays:
Translates to "Wine of the Country" or "Country Wine". To be certified as Vin de Pays, the wine meats some requirements, but they are not as strict as the requirements of the A.O.C. & A.O.P.:
• Taste! Again the wine must pass a taste test.
• Alcohol Percent Levels.
• They can show the vintage of production on Label.
 
3. Vin de Table:
Translates to "Table Wine". Any Wine produced in France (even by an individual with the smallest crop) can carry a label as Vin de Table.:
• The label for a "Vin de Table" is NOT allowed to show the Vintage, Region it is produced in or the varieties grapes used to produce it. This is the lowest quality of wine, however some can be good.
 
One of the Co-Ops we found to have some of the best wine is the Les Coteaux De Rieutort in Murviel-les-Béziers.
The ''Rouge A.O.P. St Chinian'' is as smooth & flavorful as that you would expect to find in the fine restaurants.
It cost 1€33 per litre.
 
Here are just some of the labels we have tried.
There are so many that it is impossible for me to describe each one & most do not come off the bottle good enough for me to scan.

 
Château de Grézan 1996
 
We have also found the Château de Grézan to have an excellent wine sold by the bottle that was also not very expensive a bottle & quite tasty.
 
Château de Grézan 2000
Château de Grézan 2000
 
Château Pégairolles de l'Escalette
Front Label
This was an excellent wine that we purchased at La Grotte de Labeil. We have found that in most cases, the wines with a ''serial number'' have been exceptional. Château Pégairolles de l'Escalette
Rear Label
 
Château de Laborde
A very nice Bordeaux (not from the Languedoc).
 
Château Ferran
Château Ferran
Excellent, with spicy smoky peppery flavor.
 
Laurens
A gift from "Agnete". Red smooth & light.
 
St Chinian AOC 2000
Full bodied red, not to sweet, not dry.
 
Château Moureau
Nice dry red with delicate flavor.
 
Château de Mattes
Excellent dry red from the area.
 
 

What is on the Label & what it means

Wine Label
 
Optional: brand name, Château (estate) picture, gold border or lettering on label, ''Carte Noire'' designation (indicates a wine has been aged several years), vintage, back label, ''Vieilles Vignes'' (Old Vines), ''Mis en Bouteilles à la propriété'' (Estate Bottled).
 
 
1. Name of origin.
2. Regional designation, either ''Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée'' or ''Vin de Pays'', followed by the appellation name or the geographic area where the wine was produced. Champagne is not obliged to put this on the label, because the only sparkling wines allowed to be call Champagne are from the Champagne area, & no others can be called Champagne.
3. Name & addresses of bottler, because this is considered to be the legal person in charge of the wine.
4. Volume of the bottle in litre, centilitres or millilitres.
5. Amount of alcohol expressed in % volume (%vol), referred to like 12°.
6. Trade mark or name of the exploitation.
7. Address of owner.
8. ''Bottled at Château'' (the domain, the property or in the production region); these mentions are authorized only if bottled where the grapes were harvested & the wine produced or in the immediate proximity.
9. Year of the production. Respective to: Development method and conservation (aged in oak cask).

 
 
Grape Harvester
 
This is one of the Grape Harvesting Machines, commonly used now in the area. This LARGE machine looks to be very abrasive to the delicate grapes, but actually seems to be very delicate in the process of removing the grape clusters & dumping the grapes into a trailer. Notice that the wheels are almost the height of the cars.
 
A trimmed vine
 
Much work, YEAR ROUND, goes into the production of the wines. This photo was taken in February or March. The vines are trimmed back drastically in late winter & almost look dead. This is an older vine. After so many years of production, the vines are replaced with young vines, from cuttings. The young vines require support stings or twines to hold the weight of the grapes. Some vineyards are still collected by hand.