Pays d’Oc: Second tier. Not second class

There is so much to know about wine that I should have started my education as soon as I was born. I wasted so much time going through a primary and secondary education and continuing on to graduate schools when I could have/should have been doing nothing but studying wine.

For sure the looking, swirling, sipping, breathing, spitting that is part of the wine tasting ritual is much more fun than sitting in classrooms and libraries and spending cloistered hours of studying and prepping for exams. May I mention the disappointments from “almost” perfect grades or “almost” passing? Life would have been much better had I tossed aside the quest for a liberal arts, international business education, and chosen the right path – the study of wine.

Fortunately, I have learned the errors of my ways and now I can move along the passageway, basking in the shine of multi-hued grapes from France and Germany, the sweet and heady aroma of wines from Chile and Australia, New York, California, and even Missouri. The wine journey is arduous, complex, and incredibly pleasant. The grape is a complicated fruit with multiple personalities and offers endless surprises.

I Never Knew
Did you know that French grapes have pedigrees? At the very bottom step of French wines, consumers will find Vin de table or table wine. Wines bearing this label are ranked below the VDQS and Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) classifications. Vin de table labels indicate only that the wine is from France. Research indicates that the words table wine on the label of a French wine bottle is not a commercially-viable classification.

The next step up the French wine ladder is Vin de pays. This nomenclature was developed in 1973 and passed by the French government in 1979. It allows producers to distinguish wines that are made using specific grape varieties and/or blends and produced following procedures other than those required under the AOC rules.

Before any bulk or packaged wine is released for sale, the wine operator must subject the wine to in-house controls (Pays d’ Oc Wine Producers Union). This process is audited by the Bureau Veritas Certification France. If the wine meets certification standards it receives a passport that allows it to be commercialized and released for sale.

There are three levels of wines for Vin de pays with Vin de Pays d’Oc from the Languedoc-Roussillon area in Mediterranean France the largest contributor to the category. The area has around 700,000 acres under vines and is the single biggest wine-producing region in the world, being responsible for more than a third of France’s total wine production. As recently as 2001, the region produced more wine than the entire United States.

It is the leading world producer of varietal wines such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Unlike some other regions of France that require some knowledge of French geography to decipher the wine label, Vin de Pays d’Oc wines are comfortingly labeled by the principal grape variety.

Drinking Pays d’Oc
The United States drinks up 3.9 percent of the wines produced in the Pays d’Oc representing US$32.63 million. Of the total volume, 72 percent are red and rose while 28 percent white. Most of the wines from Pays d’Oc are consumed by the Germans (25 percent), the UK, and Netherlands (11+ percent respectively).

USA/French Connection
In 1987, Jacques Gravegeal, currently the President of the Pays d’Oc Wine Producers Union, visited the United States and learned of the American grape varietal wine process. He explored the modern production methods used here and quickly realized that the method could re-establish the wine industry in his region.
Gravegeal was born in Herault, a department in south of France named after the river in the area. Originally an important viticulture region, it was devastated in the 20th century when a disease attacked the vines and wine sales declined. The wine growers revolted and were treated harshly by the government of Georges Clemenceau.

When Gravegeal returned from the United States to his home in Herault he started working with Robert Skalli, a major wine merchant, and created the Vin de Pays d’Oc label (now Pays d’Oc IGP). This label is dedicated to quality varietal wines and accepted as a universal standard for fine wines. Thanks to Gravegeal efforts, the region restored the viticulture and reestablished the vibrancy of the area. The Montpellier basin has experienced one of the most rapid population increases anywhere in France.

Vinetta Project
To promote increased consumption of Pays d’Oc wines, Jacques Gravegeal recently visited New York and hosted a wine tasting event at the Vinatta Project, located in the meatpacking district of Manhattan. The wine experience was well attended by trade importers and wine merchants. While everyone had their favorites, my take on the Pays d’Oc follows:

Crisp and Fresh

La Forge Estate
Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Price: US$12.99

La Forge Estate wines are a blend of the old and new worlds of wine making. It is a pleasure to look at this wine in the glass for it presents a clear, grassy green and golden glow that catches and reflects the light. To the tongue it is slightly fruity and a bit on the sweet side, but delivers a clean finish.

Plays well with soft fresh cheese, tarts, and fruit desserts

Light and Fruity

Badet Clement, Les Jamelles
Grenache Rose 2010
Price: US$10.99

Two young winemakers, Catherine and Laurent Delaunay, are responsible for this fresh and fruity Grenache Rose. Swirl the glass in the sunshine and note the delicate light pink color (think ultra suede) and, starting with a very small sip you are bound to conjure up pleasant memories of star fruit and grapefruits. This wine makes an interesting aperitif to be enjoyed at the beginning of the day.

Plays well with omelets, salads, and pizzas

Laurent Miquel
Pere et fils Cinsault – Syrah Rose 2011
Price: US$8.00

Laurent Miquel, the young winemaker responsible for this very light and flowery Syrah Rose, hand selects the best of his Cinsault and Syrah grapes from his family estates near Beziers in the South of France. The results are an intensively-flavored wine yet is fresh and balanced leaving a pleasant memory of a satisfied palate.

Plays well with prosciutto and melon or sipped as an aperitif, poolside

Domaine de Jau
Le jaja de jau Syrah Rose 2011
Price: US$8.99

Think of roses, raspberries, and strawberries that have been delightfully blended into a light pink liquid that is fun to sip along with good conversation.

Plays well with waffles and strawberries in the late afternoon, after returning from a day at the museum

Savory and Rich

Jeff Carrel
Puydeval 2010
Price: US$15.50

Close your eyes and inhale the aroma of black cherries, and on the tongue a slight suggestion of anise. This wine is based on Cabernet Franc and is considered to be unusual; however, it has loyal followers who applaud its originality and value.

Plays well with grilled portabella mushrooms, pizza, and gourmet–level burgers

Additional information on these charming and interesting wines can be found at