You can’t always drink $100 burgundies or chardonnays. Why would you want to? One of the nicest things about following wine is discovering new ones, from lesser-known areas or unexpected grapes or blends. You often can save some bucks that way, too.
France’s Languedoc-Roussillon and Portugal’s Douro Valley are two such areas.
The next time you hop in your Peugeot convertible and cruise from Marseilles to Barcelona, the blue Mediterranean to your left, turn your head to the right and look up into the Midi-Pyrenees Mountains. This is Languedoc-Roussillon, where ancient man (and presumably woman) lived 450,000 years ago, and grapes have flourished since the Middle Ages.
Tourists seldom visit the vineyards, because the region has few of the castle-like chateaux of Burgundy or Bordeaux. Here, hard-working winemakers toil in semi-anonymity making interesting wines at very friendly prices.
North of Lisbon, Portugal’s Douro Valley stretches deep into the countryside, some slopes so steep that grapes can only be carried out by mule or man.
For centuries, the valley has been home to the potent, hearty grapes that make the country’s famed port. A given port can be made of 10 or more grapes with names few recognize: tinta roriz, touriga franca, tinta barroca. Growers claim they have great individuality, being grown in schist-laden soil with a high mineral content.
Using 21st century methods, Portuguese winemakers have begun using these grapes in top-quality table wines as well. Because of the powerful grapes, these are full-bodied, hearty wines, although they’re not super-tannic. So they go well with lasagna, burgers and steaks.
The Symington port family has teamed up with legendary French Bordeaux maker Bruno Prats to make Symington & Prats wines. The joint effort produces a modern red wine called Post Scriptum de Chryseia, considered one of Portugal’s finest new offerings.
The joint venture also is producing Prazo de Roriz, another new wine from the old port grapes, at the ancient port house Quinta de Roriz, which the Symington family acquired in 2009.
• 2009 “Saint Chinian” Syrah/Mourvedre, by Gerard Bertrand: soft and smooth, with aromas and flavors of red plums, herbs and minerals, long finish; $21.
• 2009 Post Scriptum de Chryseia, Douro (41 percent touriga nacional grapes, 36 percent touriga franca, 14 percent tinta roriz): deep, dark hue, floral aroma, hint of oak, flavors of black cherries and black coffee, ripe tannins; $22.
• 2008 “Grand Terroir,” by Gerard Bertrand, Cotes du Roussillon Village Tautavel (50 percent grenache, 35 percent syrah, 15 percent carignan): ripe and round, with aromas and flavors of cassis and cinnamon and ripe tannins; $13.
• 2008 “Minervois” Syrah/Carignan, by Gerard Bertrand (50 percent syrah, 50 percent carignan): firm and powerful, with aromas and flavors of black cherries and black coffee; $18.
• 2009 “Corbieres” Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre, Languedoc (40 percent syrah, 40 percent grenache, 20 percent mourvedre): aromas and flavors of black plums, roasted nuts and minerals, long and smooth; $18.
• 2009 Prazo de Roriz, Douro (36 percent tinta barroca, 31 percent tinta rori, 10 percent tinta Francisca, 9 percent touriga nacional, 9 percent touriga franca, 5 percent other): aromas of black raspberries and cinnamon, silky and smooth; $17.