As far as French wine regions go, they don’t get any bigger than Languedoc-Roussillon. Located in the southwest corner of the country, the region once has about 700,000 acres under vine. Not only does it produce more wine than the entire United States, but it is the single largest wine-producing region in the world. It accounts for nearly one-third of the wine produced in France and nearly 40 percent of its exports.
Yet when was the last time you had a bottle of wine from this region? Big isn’t always better, and winemakers in this region have historically produced mediocre wines with an emphasis on quantity. This kind of a business plan is doomed to fail – and it has. Today there are fewer wineries, less wine produced, and less land planted to vineyards. No other wine region in the world, to our knowledge, has suffered such a steep decline.
But there are significant signs that the region can regain its luster behind the leadership of a handful of producers determined to put quality first.
One such producer is Jean-Claude Mas who has adopted a number of domaines in Languedoc since he took over his family 42-acre estate in 1999. He launched Domaine Paul Mas, named after his father, in 2000.
We were literally awestruck when we tasted his wines because they were so significantly better than what we have tasted in the past from this vast region. Because vineyards are relatively cheap here, Mas is able to keep prices down and deliver a lot of great wine for reasonable prices. Consumers should take advantage of the prices while this region is in its renaissance stage.
What is Mas doing differently?
“There are two parts. First, everything is managed by one guy – me – and with one technique and surrounded by people who share my philosophy,” he said. “Seventy-percent of the wine made in Languedoc is done by co-op and negociant. But I produce everything I sell.
"Second, you need to have a winery with the best possible conditions – temperature control, control of the use of oxygen, etc. We have to know how the grapes behave," he said.
Mas said in the old days his father and grandfather, like other winemakers, would work a bit and then relax.
"They weren't trying hard to make better wines," he said. "You can make a good living without trying too hard."
Contrarily, Mas is constantly walking through the vineyards, tasting the grapes and paying attention to every aspect of the winemaking. He's not making his fathers' wine.
The 13 estates he now owns in all of the key areas of the Languedoc cover more than 1,600 acres, and he has agreements for grapes from the owners of another 3,200 acres of vineyards. That's a big source of fruit for a winemaker to draw from.
Although he grows 45 different grape varieties, the primary reds include syrah, grenache, carignan and mourvedre. These grapes, like those used in Rhone wines, make intensive, layered w,ines. Mas wines, though, add more structure and texture. His mission is to make an every-day wine with every-day luxury.
"To achieve wine with an enticing character, you have to have nice and noble aromatics – fruits, flowers, spices – good mouthfeel and complexity."
Generally, his wines are opulent without being over-extracted.
Mas hopes he is leading the way to redemption, but acknowledges that many fellow winemakers have given up. But he feels he is on a launch pad – getting prepared for the big moment when Languedoc will be held equal to Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley.
Here are some of the Paul Mas wines we loved:
Chateau Paul Mas Coteaux du Languedoc Clos des Mures 2015 ($20). This is the reason we urge people to look here for wines that overdeliver. This blend of syrah (83 percent), grenache and mourvedre is a prime example of what can come from a talented winemaker. Jean-Claude Mas has crafted a dense, delicious and full-bodied wine when others are often satisfied with something much simpler. It has earthy, cassis, violet, and spicy aromas, and dark berry, mineral flavors. Soft mouth feel makes it drinkable now.
Chateau Paul Mas Coteaux du Languedoc Vignes de Nicole L'Assemblage Blanc 2015 ($16). This is an incredible wine for the price. An eclectic blend of chardonnay, sauvignon, viognier and picpoul, it shows off pear and passion fruit aromas with a creamy, ripe pear flavor and a hint of mineral. Delicious.
Chateau Paul Mas Coteaux du Languedoc Belluguette 2016 ($20). A very interesting blend of vermentino, roussanne, grenache and viognier, this is a spirited and racy white wine that makes for a good aperitif or a complement to oysters and clams.
Domaine Paul Mas Cotes Mas Cremant de Limoux Rosé ($16). A blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc and pinot noir, this sparkling wine strikes a new pose for those expecting champagne. The chenin blanc gives the wine a soft mouthfeel and peach flavor. Add to that a dose of grapefruit and you have a delicious, well-priced aperitif.