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Posted on 13/05/2016 by quentinsadler

Clairette – a surprising white grape from the Languedoc

Whilst in the Languedoc recently I was able to go on lots of study trips of the wine areas and also to attend quite a few masterclasses – in fact I have been thrilled this year to learn that the French, Croat and Slovene words for masterclass are, well, masterclass!

The beautiful Domaine La Croix Chaptal – photo courtesy of the winery.

One of the best of these masterclasses was about a little known white wine called Clairette du Languedoc. The appellation / PDO was created in 1948, making it the oldest white wine PDO in the Languedoc. Only one grape is permitted, the Clairette or Clairette Blanche, which is really only found in the Rhône, Provence and Languedoc regions. It is a low acid, but high alcohol grape, so can make pretty flabby wines if you are not careful with it. It is widely grown in the Southern Rhône, where it is used as a blending grape, including in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The grape lends its name to the sweet sparkling Clairette de Die, despite only 25% of Clairette being allowed in the finished wine, the rest must be Muscat – originally it was 100% Clairette.

In the Languedoc two areas specialise in the grape Clairette de Bellegarde, in the far east of the region near the Rhône, and Clairette du Languedoc, just west of Montpellier. So troublesome was the grape that in the past it was often used as the basis of vermouth rather than being drunk on its own, and further back in history it was a sweet wine – the dry versions were apparently called Picardon and the sweet ones Clairette. Luckily though, as is so often the case, modern know-how has come to its rescue and in the Clairette du Languedoc zone a modest renaissance is underway. The sea is only 20 km away and sighting the vineyards to catch the sea breezes and the refreshing Tramontane wind is very important to retain freshness.

The appellation is the smallest in the Languedoc with just 100 hectares of vineyard and 18 producers, 7 of which are cooperatives, but it produces four styles of wine all from the single grape. Fresh, dry whites are made, as well as sweet versions, long wood aged rank wines and fortified Vins Doux Naturels. I tasted examples of all of these and truthfully found the sweet versions to be a bit light and lacking, which is a shame as there is more sweet wine made here than dry. The drier styles quite excited me though and I brought one back to show in a tasting and it excited everyone there too.

The beautiful Domaine La Croix Chaptal – photo courtesy of the winery.

2014 Domaine La Croix Chaptal Clairette Blanche 
Domaine La Croix Chaptal
AC / AOP Clairette du Languedoc

This delightful estate is owned by Charles-Walter Pacaud who hails from the Cognac region, but fell in love with Languedoc’s Terrasses du Larzac while studying winemaking in Montpellier. He managed to buy this estate which has a recorded history going back to the 10th century, but Gallo-Roman archeological finds in the vineyards suggest the land has been in use for a lot longer than that. Most of what he produces is either Coteaux du Languedoc, Languedoc or Languedoc Terrasses du Larzac, with just one hectare being Clairette, but they are old vines that give better concentration and they grow on well drained stony and gravelly soil.

Charles-Walter Pacaud tending his vines – photo courtesy of the winery.

The grapes are harvested by hand, as required in the appellation, destined and spend a little time macerating on the skins for flavour and texture development. 30% is aged in new oak on the lees, with the rest aged in stainless steel tank on the lees for 18 months.

The aromas are quite beguiling, very mineral, herbal – especially fennel and vanilla – together with honey, almonds, peach skin and light toast. The palate is more fleshy with some burnt orange and a mouth-filling texture. there is even a very attractive touch of Fino sherry about it, just a point of oxidation that makes it quite delicious. The finish is very long and mineral and the more you come back to this wine the better it gets. A wonderful discovery, try it if you can – 91/100 points.

This would be wonderful with rich fish dishes, shellfish with garlic butter, fish pie, Coquilles Saint Jacques, chicken and all manner of cheeses too.

Sadly this excellent wine is not available in the UK, so contact the winery direct. I cannot find any other examples of the region available here either, so make sure you try it when you are over there.
For US stockists, click here.


NEW !!! Les Sigillées !!! Coteaux du Languedoc

Ceramic fragments found in the vineyard
During the 2005 harvest, how surprising it was to see one of our pickers so thrilled with his find ! He was a student in archeology and had just discovered some finely decorated fragments of red ceramics in a plot of Grenache and a plot of Syrah on our estate. He had immediately recognized that they were “Sigillées” !

Indeed they are “Sigillées”
The « Sigillées » were red Gallo-Roman ceramics characterised by raised designs and intended for table service. Their relatively short production spread out over several decades at the beginning of the Christian era. An important workshop was set up in La Graufesenque (near Millau) in Larzac – Aveyron; the fragments found in our vineyard may have been produced there.

Archeological excavations have unearthed several Gallo-Roman wine-producing villas in the surroundings of Domaine La Croix Chaptal. It is however impossible to determine if on La Croix Chaptal estate, there was any wine-producing activity as we would have to uproot the vines to make sure...

What a fine name for our Coteaux du Languedoc !The discovery of such fragments of Sigillées gave me the idea of naming my range Coteaux du Languedoc after them. It is the only appellation which I produce in the three colours, since Clairette du Languedoc is 100% White Clairette and Terrasses du Larzac are 100% red :

·         « Les Sigillées » Blanc, sharp, elegant and mineral

·         « Les Sigillées » Rouge, fruity and voluptuous

·         « Les Sigillées » Rosé, round and gastronomic

What a fine name for our Coteaux du Languedoc !
The discovery of such fragments of Sigillées gave me the idea of naming my range Coteaux du Languedoc after them. It is the only appellation which I produce in the three colours, since Clairette du Languedoc is 100% White Clairette and Terrasses du Larzac are 100% red :

A new label unveiled at ProWein
The identity of these three cuvées is enhanced by an original label featuring the famous Sigillées which will be unveiled at ProWein 2016.

An ideal opportunity to (re)discover Domaine La Croix Chaptal, both richly endowed with a time-honoured wine–producing tradition and firmly anchored in its own time !


Charles-Walter PACAUD

and also, our Aramon !!! a Rare grappe varietial

An age-old variety almost forgotten
owadays, who still happens to know « Aramon » ? Not many people !
Even though it was grown over more than 150.000 hectares at the end of World War II, there remains only one hundredth of that surface today.

Several signs testify to its age-old setting up in Languedoc, including the numerous names that the inhabitants have had time to give it as well as the village in the Gard area that bears its name. An additional sign is that, on top of Black Aramon, there exist extremely rare variations in pink and white

It has become poorly thought of, however…
It is difficult today to conceive of yields up to 250 hl per ha. This was the usual yield though for Aramon when it grew in plains. This high potential yield ensured its being popular when mass consumption was the order of the day. To such an extent that it has become synonymous with quantity to the detriment of quality. So when the market turned towards quality wines, its glory faded and the vines of Aramon were massively uprooted.

That trend somehow overlooked the fact that on hillsides and with limited yields, Aramon can produce wines that are indeed interesting.

An original cuvée to rediscover Aramon
At domaine La Croix Chaptal, we have kept safe our hillside plot of Aramon which is now 80 years old. Needless to say that the ardour of youth has had time to calm down ! With a yield of around 50 Hl per ha, we obtain a wine which keeps the light side of the variety, i.e slightly coloured and with low tannins, while asserting a sharp, fruity and voluptuous character. It is ideal to rediscover this variety.

In keeping with current concerns
Further advantage : Aramon corresponds to current expectations. As it is naturally light in alcohol, it is an original partner for meals particularly in summer. Moreover, this age-old variety which has become rare keeps watch over biodiversity. As it is well-adapted to the terroir, it is sturdy and little demanding.

Finally, old vines which have been producing grapes for 80 years save the environment the ecological cost of uprooting and planting again.


Vins du Languedoc: Great Tastes, Fabulous Values

One of the best wine tasting events I’ve been to all year was the one featuring Languedoc AOC wines, where I tasted wines made from grapes that were unfamiliar to me and learned about the fascinating history of this wine region.

Below is a look at just a few of the 31 wines that were poured.  I was impressed with the aroma, taste and food-friendliness of all that I tasted.










For the second year in a row, Domaine La Croix Chaptal is selected as one of the top 30 Languedoc Wines on the USA market thanks to its cuvée "Les Terrasses 2007" - AOC Terrasses du Larzac - Languedoc !!!

And good news to start the New Year :
Tasting notes from Peter K Wong - Best sommelier from Hong Kong - January 2010 : Cuvée Charles 2005 :

"Aromas of grilled pepper, ripe tannins, a silky well-structured and very balanced wine. The best I have tasted from the South of France. It has tinges od the Lafite Rotschild style".

Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung 04-09-2010


Enjoy the Languedoc - it won't be here forever, from Andrew Jefford : Decanter January 2009 (pg 21)
"...Geologically, the Languedoc hills are a synopsis of everything which makes France so propitious for winegrowing... Surely in any other country, those Languedoc hills would have been a star region; their misfortune was to find themselves sharing a nation with Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire and the Rhône. And too far from Paris.
But where is the best spot in the Languedoc ? My theory is that Terrasses du Larzac is the greatest spot in the Languedoc... Stone and slopes alone don't make for great wine - as much of Provence proves - but when skilled winegrowers grapple intelligently and sensitively with nature here, the results seem to me to have the same aromatic, textural potential as the best of the Rhône..."

Wine Spectator of January 2009 : SAVVY SHOPPER
Strategies to help you choose the best wines in 2009 -  TOP VALUES :
Domaine La Croix Chaptal "Cuvée Charles" 2005 = 90/100 : $20
Domaine La Croix Chaptal "Les Terrasses" 2005 = 88/100 : $15

Three stars in the September issue of  DECANTER

Domaine La Croix Chaptal - Terrasses du Larzac - Cuvée Charles 2005 : 15,33/20
"Robust black-cherry nose. Ripe and oaky. Rich, supple, juicy with robust tannins. Not a lot of character but a good mouthful. From 2008"

1999-2009 the adventure goes on...

 HACHETTE guide 2009 : confirmed presence of Cuvée Charles.

BETTANE ET DESSEAUVE 2009 : identity and character of our Terroir.

DUSSERT GERBER 2009 : an outburst of praises. 


·     Out Déodat de Séverat 2004 is praised in Terre De Vin n°30, p 18:

“Charles Pacaud’s estate goes a step further with “Les Origines”, a new ambitious range of three “cuvées”, each one with one of the three following varieties : Carignan, Grenache or Syrah as its main basis. This Coteaux du Languedoc 2004 (17,50 €) pays tribute to Déodat de Séverat, a monk from Gellone Abbey who created the vineyard of the estate of Cambous in the early Xth century. In this wine, the Syrah variety prevails supported by a touch of Grenache and Carignan. Its nose is toasted and full of ripe wild black berries and elderberry. In the mouth, touches of blackberry jam, of prune, of thyme and ash prevail. This is a powerful, fleshy, concentrated wine but it remains fresh and full-bodied with a long-lasting mint-flavoured final touch.”


Last Press Release from "Wine Reviews & Rant" - Australia :  92 points to La Croix Chaptal - Seigneurie de Cambous 2001

"The vineyard is mainly old vines planted near Cambous about 45 minutes west of Montpellier. It is mainly Carignan with a bit of Grenache and Syrah. The nose was still closed, but had a bit of cinnamon spice and licorice. The same tones were in the wine along with an almost thick structure of fine tannins. No fruit sweetness, but still a bit dark red fruits and spicy overtones. The wine was made to "express the unique terroir of Cambous as it must have been in the 10th century when owned by the monks of Gellone Abbey". This is one of the best Languedoc wines I have tasted."

Tasting scores :   90-100 = very fine, extraordinary,   80-89 = very good,   70-79 = solid,   60-69 = faults are not obvious.