Head To The South Of France

A few years ago I worked in a fine wine shop in the town where I live. The inventory was about 80% or more European, but geared intentionally towards the more attractive price ranges, those numbers where the vast majority of customers felt most comfortable.

One of the labels that moved continually was a $10 white from Domaines Paul Mas in the Languedoc region of southern France. I mean moved. I couldn’t figure out how the owner kept it in stock. Not a day went by that I didn’t sell a few bottles of Paul Mas chardonnay. One day I took a bottle home and finally understood. It was American enough in its notes of oak and malolactic fermentation (the thing that makes chardonnay kind of creamy and buttery), but not over the top. And it was more than European enough in its great acidity, hints of wet stone, and a slightly savory finish. Ten bucks! I’m not saying this stuff was comparable to high-end Burgundy, but it had just enough complexity and crispness to make it stand out in the price range. Once people found out, there was no holding on to it.

A year or two later, after I had left the shop, the owner turned me on to a Paul Mas red blend that, at $19, blew away similar bottles in the price range. Clearly, the folks at this Languedoc winery knew what they were doing. The owner, Jean-Claude Mas, the fourth generation in his family to run the chateau, defines his approach at “Luxe Rural,” a focus on the simple pleasures in life that don’t come with expensive price tags.

So, a few weeks back when I got a note from the public relations firm representing DPM here in the States asking me if I wanted to taste current releases, it was a no-brainer,  just the sort of opportunity for which I am more than qualified.

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2014 Château Paul Mas Coteaux du Languedoc “Clos des Mures” ($19.99, 14.5% abv, 750 ml) This was the bottle I had liked so much a couple of years back, and I hoped it would live up to my memory. A full-bodied blend of 85% syrah, 10% grenache, and 5% mourvedre, it has power and complexity not often found in wines under $20. Brilliant, deep maroon with a garnet rim; aromas of roasted meat, black olives, herbal and earth notes, slight smokiness, and a hint of lavender. In the mouth, the alcohol and oak show immediately but gradually fall back, integrating themselves seamlessly. Concentrated fruit and savory flavors, with notes of black pepper and roasted meats, bacon fat, and raspberry jam. Bright acids are refreshing and the finish is long. I recommend decanting this if possible as it took more than an hour to really hit its stride. If you can’t decant, be patient. It will come around. It was a terrific accompaniment to grilled tri-tip and roasted veggies. Great potential to shine at a summer cook-out.

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2013 Château Paul Mas Coteaux du Languedoc “Belluguette” ($19.99, 14% abv, 750ml) I was so eager to try this that I didn’t look at the tasting notes or even read the back label. I looked at the bottle, thought “oh, chardonnay” and dove right in, not even thinking that the wine came from a region where most white wine is usually something other than chardonnay. Right off the bat I thought, well, this is odd. Doesn’t really smell or taste like any chardonnay I’ve ever had. Something must be wrong. What a maroon! Of course it doesn’t. Why? Because it’s a blend of 40% vermentino, 30% rousanne, 20% grenache blanc, and 10% viognier. Brilliant lemon gold in the glass, offering aromas of white flowers, apple, lemon, and a hint of chalk or talc, along with some vanilla and oak notes. Delightful mouthfeel with a lush texture balanced by crisp acidity. Flavors of apples, pears, white peach, and vanilla, with hints of toasted brioche. Complex and structured with a light but lingering finish. I could see enjoying this with any meaty white fish, grilled chicken or even a savory summer salad. Pretty tasty all on its own as well.

2015 Côte Mas Sud de France Pays d’Oc “Rosé Aurore” ($10.99, 13% abv, 1L) A blend of 50% grenache, 30% cinsault, and 20% syrah. Bright pale salmon color with aromas of strawberries and raspberries, dusty gravel and a hint of chalk. Crisp and refreshing in the mouth with bracing acidity. Rich fruit flavors give way to an earthy minerality at the finish. Not a complex wine by any stretch but at ten bucks PER LITER it is a total summer quaffer. Bargain, steal, great QPR (quality-price ratio), call it what you will, but if you like to drink pink, it’s worth some hands-on research. Of course, this is just one man’s opinion. My wife wasn’t crazy about the earthy notes on the finish, and maybe you’ll feel the same. There’s only one way to find out.

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Many of my relatives and friends don’t like to spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine, and often ask me for recommendations, something they can add to their weekly shopping list. Too many times I don’t feel like I’ve helped them advance their game as much as I’d like. Happily, I think these three wines will put me in good shape for the foreseeable future.

**Samples and top photo courtesy of Gregory White PR, New York, NY

 

 

 

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