I happen to be very fond of wines from southern France - there are quite a few under-appreciated gems to be found there (if you haven't had Madiran, that is an experience worth seeking out). One of the regions that delights me the most is the Languedoc. The wines use the same set of grapes as in the Rhone, but with a higher percentage of Carignan (as much as 50%). I tend to think of the Rhone as being more refined, and of all the wine of southern France Chateauneuf-du-Pape is by far my favorite. The Languedoc, on the other hand, offers a more country-style, barnyard, and in my mind 'impolite' expression. I affectionately refer to many of these wines as 'monsters.' In fact, the first time a friend and neighbor of mine tasted one, he called me up and asked if I could come taste it, because he was worried that there was something wrong with it. So I went and tasted it, and my first reaction was a huge smile - that rich, earthy, barnyard of a wine was delightful!
This past weekend the same neighbor had another bottle from the Languedoc open (I seem to have converted him!), and this one surprised me, for though it had all of the rich, earthy character I love in these wines, it actually managed to be elegant - something I definitely hadn't encountered before. The wine was made by Hegarty-Chamans (http://hegartychamans.com/), who are located in Minervois (my favorite appelation in the region). Although they produce Minervois AC wines, this particular one was a humble Vin de Table, their 'Cuvee No. 3,' a blend of 50% Carignan, 40% Syrah, and 10% Grenache. Why that didn't qualify for the AC I don't know - but it's the wine in the glass that matters!
Hegarty Chamans Cuvee No. 3 Vin de Table 2003
This is made and bottled in Minervois, although it doesn't carry the AC designation. A nice, deep purple color, with a very nice, rich, sweet, and floral (suprise!) nose. On the palate, red fruits upfront, with a touch of minerals providing an almost 'cherry-cola' character, and then sweet nectarine before an earthy finish. Perhaps some herbal notes as well, along with those surprising, floral (dare I say lilac) aromatics. An elegant wine, with 'gentle' aspects to its character - a huge surprise from the Languedoc - and yet still distinctly of its place. 50% Carignan, 40% Syrah, and 10% Grenache. Tasted twice with consistent notes. Excellent (87 - 90) (5/3/08).
Languedoc appelations to look for: Coteaux du Languedoc (more burly, country-style wines), Minervois (more refined), Costieres de Nimes (sometimes considered part of the Rhone, and it depends on the producer which style they go for)