If ever a Wild West existed for French wines, it would be the Languedoc-Roussillon. Every French wine region has a set of standards to which it must adhere—the French do love their regulations, don’t they?—known as the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC). AOC rules range in restrictiveness from corset to straitjacket: in Burgundy they go so far as to dictate font sizes on labels. In the Rhône AOC laws have banned the takeoff and landing of UFOs in Châteauneuf-du-Pape since 1954.
Things are a bit looser in the Languedoc-Roussillon, however. Perhaps it’s the region’s sheer size that makes it harder to control: at 700,000 acres, it’s the largest wine-producing region in the world, accounting for more than a third of France’s total wine production. Or perhaps it’s the influence of relaxed southerners: located just south of Provence and north of Spain, with the Mediterranean Sea to the east, the region averages 300 days of sunshine per year. And who wants to be uptight about rules when the sun is shining and there’s wine to be made?
This Wild West of France has understandably attracted many modern-day wine-making bandits. While UFOs have yet to land, foreigners from America to Australia have arrived, finding it easier to forge a new path in a region where traditions have yet to be made. One such woman is a Belgian named France Crispeels. Having studied architecture and writing in her homeland, France moved to Marseille in 2000 to pursue her passion for wine. The warm climate of Roussillon drew her farther south, along with the region’s wide-open spaces and lack of overbearing traditions. Her domaine, Vignoble Réveille, was founded in 2006.
This month’s wine, the Climax 2011, is a blend of 75 percent Carignane and 25 percent grenache. It’s juicy and mouthwatering, and I can only surmise that the burst of flavors coming from the bottle gives the wine its name, as the vineyards from which the grapes are sourced are not from the highest mountain peaks in Roussillon. Or perhaps Ms. Crispeels is a keen cyclist? Your guess is as good as mine, ladies.
Either way, the Climax is indeed an explosion of raspberry, blackberry, licorice, black olives, star anise and hoisin sauce. While full-bodied, the texture is velvety and all too easy going down the throat. The best food pairings would be with heartier fare, such as pork tenderloin, roast duck or cassoulet, although a lighter option such as couscous with chorizo and fennel would pair perfectly as well.
Ms. Crispeels may have been returning to her literary roots when she named this wine, as the climax of a novel is the point of highest tension, when the action starts and the solution is given. Whether you’re drinking this solo while reading a good novel or together with your petit amour, the Climax 2011 is sure to bring you to a high point.
The 2011 Vignoble Réveille Climax Côtes du Roussillon ($20–25) is available at K&L Wine Merchants, San Francisco, and Provisions Wine, Northampton, Massachusetts.