La Clape was my lesson for this week. Last week my vendor tasted me on Chateau L'Hospitalet Rhone-style red from Gerard Bertrand. Located in the La Clape AOC in the Aude department of Languedoc, the wine tasted like the formidable Rhone blend its back label said it would be: 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 30% Mourvedre. I bought five cases.
Hopefully this wine will find a home on many holiday dinner tables this month. It's a somewhat pricey red from a region that only got its AOC pedigree a couple years ago. When I tasted it with the vendor last week I remarked that the asking price was high for Languedoc wine. I didn't know La Clape was anything other than ordinary in the scheme of things.
Here's what I learned:
La Clape is unique indeed. Up until the 13th century it was an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Over time, alluvial deposits from the Pyranees Mountains filled in much of three sides of it leaving lagoons to the south. Deep ravines remain elsewhere. The Mediterranean Sea fronts the east side. On the three landed sides of La Clape can be found five of the better wine districts of Languedoc.
When I got into this business in the 1970's Languedoc was where most of the wine of France came from. It still is. That wine is overwhelmingly ordinary. While I knew there were exceptions and efforts were being made to upgrade the production as a whole, I didn't know it was a concerted effort. That effort centered on the vineyards that were known to deserve a better fate than just ordinary Languedoc wine. La Clape is one of these.
A massif is an isolated compact group of mountains set apart from a range. In the local Occitane dialect La Clape means "pile of stones." The Massif de La Clape is the highest elevation of the district and stands seven hundred feet above sea level encompassing the entire east side. Cliffs provide the visual from the east. Chateau L'Hospitalet is located just above the cliffs. The vineyards are four miles away.
Just as you would expect, La Clape has the Mediterranean climate of hot summers and mild winters moderated by the marine influence. Due to its geographical positioning it also has more sunlight than anywhere else in France. Thirteen different wind currents blow any cloud formations away. The soil is a free-draining sandy mix of limestone, marl and clay. Seven hundred sixty-eight hectares of vineyards can be found over this seventeen kilometer area.
La Clape is a protected area as designated by the European Union and several other private and public entities. It has unique vegetation and the lagoons to the south host a variety of fauna including a year round population of flamingos!
Please join us this Thursday after 5 for the weekly wine tasting.