Terrasses du Larzac and Minervois La Livinière reds
These Languedoc heartland appellations offer ample choice for lovers of chunky, spicy reds. Yet, says James Lawther MW, they are regions of differing outlook
58 wines tasted No high-flyers, but an excellent choice of full, spicy reds from the heartlands of Languedoc
The siMilariTy beTweeN Terrasses du larzac and Minervois la livinière is, initially at least, apparent. both are located in the foothills behind the plain in the shadow of a limestone plateau or causse. a Mediterranean climate prevails but, in both cases, the cool night air from the higher causse helps to preserve freshness and acidity in the wines. with predominantly limestone soils and elevations running from 100m-400m, both appellations require a minimum 60% syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre in the vineyards.
Thereafter the subtle differences kick in. Minervois la livinière established itself as one of the languedoc’s six crus as long ago as 1999. it’s a fairly compact appellation, the 400ha in production located in a delimited zone that encompasses six villages. The soils are essentially limestone and, of the various grape varieties permitted, syrah often plays a dominant role. Climatically speaking the extremes tend to be avoided, allowing greater consistency from year to year.
all this adds up to a reasonably coherent identity, the wines rich and concentrated with darkly fruited, spicy aromatics and tannins that are soft and generally refined. in terms of production there are some heavy hitters – Gérard bertrand, les Grands Chais de France and the Cazes family of Château lynch-bages to name a few – but all told the numbers haven’t changed over the last 15 years and you would have to describe the milieu as conservative rather than progressive.
The opposite is the case in Terrasses du larzac, where in the last five years 25 new domaines have sprung up. since acquiring appellation status in 2014 – even before – Terrasses du larzac has been the place to be, would-be vignerons attracted by the availability, potential and price of land. One consequence of the new flow has been the adoption of organics on a large scale, with more than 75% of the vineyard now organically or biodynamically farmed, or under conversion. Otherwise, the area under vine is wider spread than in Minervois la livinière, the 568ha presently declared extending through 32 different villages or communes. Certain zones have a mountain feel and the diurnal range of temperature can be as much as 20°C. it makes for a more extreme regime.
soils are preponderantly limestone with a varying mix of stones or galets roulés, silt and clay. but on the higher slopes in the northwest, schist and sandstone prevail with, in the valley below, a moonscape of volcanic red earth known locally as ruffe. Consequently, there’s perhaps more diversity in blends and styles, though a defining vibrancy and structure is generally present.