The area known as the Midi curves round Mediterranean France (including the wine regions Languedoc, Roussillon and Provence) and accounts for a third of all French wine. The majority is in Languedoc, the work horse of French wine, with hills, valleys and (not so good for wine) plains all covered in vines. There are all sorts of varieties planted there without the homogeneity of the classic regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire, Alsace or the Rhône. There’s a lot of Carignan, which is a pretty poor variety, unless it’s a really old bush vine with severely restricted yields, in which case it can make excellent wine with real local character. In relatively recent times (late ’70s) the vast Vin de Pays d’Oc was created that allows varietal wines to be made (pretty much any variety) in an attempt to compete with the New World. So all in all the area is a real melting pot of styles and qualities.
One of the appellations down on the coast is Fitou, which is dominated by Carignan, but also generally includes some GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre), with the better examples usually having more of those varieties. There’s a big difference in quality available, but there’s some great stuff out there, particularly when a decent producer has old bush vines to work with. Like many other appellations across the South of France, Fitou is dominated by co-ops. It must be said that there are many co-ops across the Midi that are stuck in the past making really quite poor wine, concentrating on volume rather than quality, but fortunately the Mont Tauch co-op in Fitou isn’t one of these. It’s a progressive place making some excellent wines at very reasonable prices.
One of their top cuvées is Fitou l’Exception, which Majestic have been stocking for quite some time. I had my last bottle of the 2003 the other night, which I bought from them about three or four years ago. It’s a terrific wine; it’s still got plenty of stuffing at eight years old, with lashings of black fruit, herbiness, licorice, chocolate and quite some complexity. Pretty long and with bags of character it’s well worth the tenner or so it costs.
All the appellations around the Languedoc hills can be very rewarding. The main ones are Corbières, Minervois, Fitou and Coteaux du Languedoc (the last is an umbrella appellation containing several crus). You can find really characterful wines that are great value, but it is a hit and miss affair and I’m afraid you either have to stick to specific recommendations or simply accept that you might have a few misses amongst your hits. However, price is a good guide and from a reputable supplier Languedoc wines between about £6 and £10 are most certainly worth a punt. Give one a go.