When the Pays d’Oc label was created in 1987, it was the inspiration of California and the freedom of expression its many permitted single varieties offered that inspired many winegrowers at the time throughout the Languedoc and Roussillon regions.
This was an outlet for their New World style wines towards export markets – 35 years on, it’s one of the region’s hugest success stories.
The character of Pays d'Oc IGP varietal wines is closely linked to the sunny, Mediterranean climate. Like an amphitheatre open to the Mediterranean Sea, it extends in an arc along the 200km of coastline formed by the Gulf of Lion, from Nîmes through the Camargue, and the Côte Vermeille to the Spanish border.
To the south, the mountain ranges formed by the Pyrenees, to the east the foothills of the Cévennes, delimit its territory. Spread over 120,000 hectares, the vineyard is divided into three zones of influence: the maritime plains in its coastal part, the first slopes and limestone soils, and finally the high-altitude vineyards.
The extent of the Pays d’Oc vineyard explains the extraordinary diversity of soils found there: they alternate between sandy soils along the sea, limestones, schists, clays or stony gravel on the plains and hillsides.
This mosaic of terroirs is the field of expression of varieties authorized by the label. The wines of Pays d’Oc IGP are made up of 45% red wines, 25% white and 30% rosé. Currently, fifty-eight varieties are permissible under the Pays d’Oc IGP denomination.
Varieties range from old traditional varieties to varieties normally found elsewhere to modern crosses either presented on their own as a single variety or in traditional or unusual blends.
While most emphasis is on the single varieties, it is important not to forget the varied styles of winemaking and enormous range of styles, from fresh, fruit forward wines to fuller bodied wines aged on the lees or in barrel, from dry through lightly moelleux to fuller sweetness, which make so many of these wines exciting choices for a range of festive occasions.
Ournac Frères, Mélasse 1ère qualité Pinot Noir 2020, Domaine Coudoulet
While politics is generally avoided at festive meals, this wine allows you to enjoy the political cartoon of the winemaker's great-great grandfather!
And every bottle is numbered.
This wine also surprises, showing the fine quality of a Burgundian-style Pinot Noir from the Languedoc.
Liz says: Cherry fruit compote with a hint of eucalyptus and menthol aromas. On the palate vibrant sour cherries, crunchy red currants and mineral fruit. Really delicious, silky tannins with fresh mouth-watering acidity. Benchmark Pinot that would partner a roast leg of lamb.
My note: Burgundian nose; juicy ripe-yet-fresh berry fruits, red plums and cherries with some oaky spice and green herbs; supple and fresh with savoury minerality.
Drinks nicely on first opening; can be cellared.
Cellar price in France: 18€ / Not Retailed in the UK
Nielluccio 2020, Domaine la Cendrillon - organic
Nielluccio, the Corsican name for Sangiovese, is relatively new to the region and is loved for its freshness even in the hottest of years.
Liz says: Juicy perfumed compote with a touch of violets on the nose. On the palate, rich bitter chocolate, black cherries, coffee and violets (think Chianti).
Velvety, rich black fruit with smooth supple ripe tannins - enough to give structure and weight but ready to drink, with long, fresh crisp acidity.
My note: black cherries, dried green herbs and complex roasted spices; plummy fruit, dark berries and cassis with coffee grounds, oaky spice, leather and herbs; complex, fresh and concentrated with supple, firm and perfectly ripe tannins.
Match with roasted darker game, pasta ragù or wild mushroom dishes.
Cellar price in France: 10€ / Not Retailed in the UK
Les P’tites Terrasses 2020, Domaine Sibille - organic
This delicately sweet blend of 50% Viognier and 50% Roussanne gives a lovely opportunity to make a meal festive as aperitif or with dessert.
Dried grapes give the sweet intensity with none of the weightiness of added alcohol found in a VDN.
Liz says: Delicate tinned peach aromas. Silky creamy richness with notes of Seville oranges, grapefruit and candied citrus peel and pears.
A pleasure to sip with the citrus freshness acidity, and an edgy minerality hidden on the finish, lifting to delicate prettiness.
My note: delicate and floral with tropical fruits and musky melonskin; sweet-sour freshness with honey, beeswax and dried pineapple pieces; complex sweet spices and white-pepper savouriness.
Neither dry nor a full-on dessert wine, it makes a refreshingly sweet after-dinner sipper or will go nicely with a creme brulee.
Twitter came up with various savoury suggestions for food matches:
Charles Hardcastle of Joseph Barnes Wines suggests blue cheese.
Guardian columnists Fiona Beckett suggests mature goats cheese, mild creamy blue cheese
Joni Karanka suggests cheese fondue.
Northerly Boy went with Vietnamese Thit Kho Tau (pork belly)
Tim Butler suggests roasted pork belly with the wine substituting for apple sauce.
Jim-Bike/food/wine suggests seared scallops or salad nicoise.
Tim Needham suggested nasi goreng and James Hubbard offered Sichuan chicken stir-fry, Malay rendang, Moroccan-spiced fish or a smoked fish pie.
Cellar price in France: 12,20€ / Not Retailed in the UK.