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Chateau La Roque Coteaux de Languedoc Rouge 1996
The picturesque landscape surrounding the historic Château La Roque appears largely unchanged from how it must have been two thousand years ago. Ownership has changed hands many times since the Romans were first here, yet the soul of this special place remains intact. Romans were said to have planted the first vines, and Benedictine Monks created the sturdy vaulted-ceiling cellars that still house the bottles today. Winegrowing resumed in the thirteenth century when the de la Roque brothers planted new vines. By the 15th century, another branch of the de la Roque family added glass blowing to the farm’s production. Today, Château La Roque is in the capable hands of Cyriaque Rozier, who converted the domaine to organic (certified in 2004) and now biodynamic (certified in 2011) viticulture, as planned by his mentor, previous owner, and Languedoc legend, Jack Boutin. Cyriaque makes the wine both here and at Château Fontanès. Though the property has responded to circumstance, its destiny seems irrevocably intertwined with its vines.
Thirty-two of the Château’s eighty hectares are consecrated to terraced vineyard land with south-southeast sun exposure, on clay and limestone soils. This is unique terroir. Garrigue, the aromatic scrub brush that dominates the landscapes of the South, asserts its presence among these vines. Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre, the noble varietals that Jack Boutin planted here years ago, make up the reds. The whites include Viognier, Rolle, Grenache Blanc, Roussane and Marsanne. In the wise words of KLWM salesperson and legend, Michael Butler, “Lay down a few cases of history.”
An extensive appellation producing a diverse selection of good-quality and value-priced wines, Languedoc-Roussillon is one of the world’s largest wine-producing region, spanning the Mediterranean coast from the Spanish border to Rhône. Languedoc forms the eastern half of the larger appellation, while Roussillon is in the west; the two actually have quite distinct personalities but are typically grouped together. Languedoc’s terrain is generally flat coastal plains, with a warm Mediterranean climate and a frequent risk of drought. Roussillon, on the other hand, is defined by the rugged Pyrenees mountains and near-constant sunshine.
Virtually every style of wine is made in this expansive region. Dry wines are often blends, and varietal choice is strongly influenced by the neighboring Rhône Valley. For reds and rosés, the primary grapes include Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre. White varieties include Grenache Blanc, Muscat, Ugni Blanc, Vermentino, Maccabéo, Clairette, Piquepoul and Bourbelenc.
International varieties are also planted in large numbers here, in particular Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In Roussillon, excellent sweet wines are made from Muscat and Grenache in Rivesaltes, Banyuls and Maury. The key region for sparkling wines here is Limoux, where Blanquette de Limoux is believed to have been the first sparkling wine made in France, even before Champagne. Crémant de Limoux is produced in a more modern style.
With hundreds of red grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used, but in the New World, experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to enhance balance or create complexity, lending different layers of flavors and aromas. For example, a variety that creates a fruity and full-bodied wine would do well combined with one that is naturally high in acidity and tannins. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.