Hipsters, those tuque-wearing young urbanites living the counter-culture dream on regular support cheques from Mom and Dad, share at least one thing in common with conservative wine geeks. They both place high value on obscurity, be it a vinyl pressing of Scandinavian metal or a syrah-carignan blend from a place few collectors have ever heard of. Which sort of makes Faugères a bona fide hipster wine.
I don't mean to sound cynical. Quite the contrary. It's simply that all but the keenest students of French wine are likely to know next to nothing about Faugères, an appellation in the southern Languedoc-Roussillon region near the Mediterranean shore. Very little product from the district makes it to Canada – or to anywhere outside of France, for that matter. Of the big-four quality appellations in the vast southern crescent, it seems to be the odd man out, not nearly as familiar as Corbières, Saint-Chinian or Minervois.
I'm not sure why. My eyes light up at the rare sight of a Faugères. There is admirable consistency to the reds,which account for a large majority of the output. Blended chiefly from carignan, cinsault, grenache, syrah and mourvèdre (or, more commonly, a subset of that group), they tend to be full-bodied and smooth, with opulent fruit seemingly dusted with fresh herbs. These are consummate bistro wines, fine partners for hearty meat stews, roast lamb, grilled sausages and the like.
Much of the wine is grown on rugged slopes comprised of schist, a deep rocky layer that serves the dry climate well. Schist-rich soils store plenty of water, dispensing it slowly to roots, keeping the vines nourished during extended periods of low summer rainfall. They also capture daytime warmth, radiating it back at night, which accelerates ripening. It all adds up to concentrated, flavourful fruit.
A fine example of the style, Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009, arrives in Ontario today as part of a collection of Languedoc-Roussillon wines rolling out in Vintages stores. Warning: You may have to elbow your way past the hipsters to find it.
Calmel + J Joseph Faugères 2009, France
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $16.95
A blend of 50-per-cent syrah with carignan and grenache, this is round, smooth and generous, with supple strawberry-like fruit laced with herbs and black pepper. Excellent value.
Hecht & Bannier Saint Chinian 2010, France
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $23.95
Here's one meaty, complex red from an excellent producer. The first impression is of concentrated dark-skinned fruit and raspberry. Then it serves up a heaping helping of licorice, lavender and herbs, with charred-beef jus making an appearance on the juicy, lively finish. Lots of wine for the money, it would reward up to six years in the cellar. $29.99 in B.C., $22.95 in Que.
Château Saint-Roch Chimères 2010, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $18.95
From the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages district near where the Pyrenees mountains greet the Mediterranean Sea, the 2010 Chimères from Saint-Roch fills the mouth with its rounded texture. It is multilayered, showing succulent cherry and raspberry fruit infused with savoury notes of thyme, lavender, mineral and creosote, and it is well-structured, with a spine of fine-grained tannins. It should improve with up to five years' rest. $17.85 in B.C.
Château Pech-Redon L'Épervier 2010, France
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $19.95
From a prized Languedoc enclave called La Clape, this is a syrah-grenache blend oozing smooth plum and raspberry with lots of lavender and herbs in the mix. Lavish and invigorating. Cellar it for up to seven years. $19.35 in Que.
Cave de Roquebrun La Grange des Combes Saint-Chinian– Roquebrun 2010, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $17.95
Located in the Saint-Chinian appellation not far from Faugères, Cave de Roquebrun crafts this hearty, tight-knit red from tannic mourvèdre, soft grenache and peppery syrah. It serves up hints of currant, bitter chocolate, herbs, tar and game. Great for barbecue. $19.65 in Que.
Domaine Les Yeuses Les Épices Syrah 2010, France
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $13.95
This big bargain took home a gold medal and a French-syrah trophy at the 2012 International Wine Challenge in London. It could spar convincingly with a few syrahs from Crozes-Hermitage at double the price. Concentrated, with blackberry, currant and saline black olive, it lingers with peppery vitality.
Château Tour Boisée À Marie-Claude Minervois 2007, France
SCORE: 89 PRICE: $21.95
Almost six years old, here's a red made from syrah, grenache and mourvèdre showing attractive evolution, with cherry, old wood, thyme and hints of sweet pipe tobacco and pepper. Supple tannins carry it to a satisfying finish. $19.95 in Que.
Château de Treviac 2010, France
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $15.95
The texture is as polished as a cue ball, supporting nuances of plum, prune and smoked herbs. It's very ripe, at 15-per-cent alcohol, and, alas, there's a bit of heat peeking through on the spicy finish.
Château de Corneilla Heritage 2010, France
SCORE: 84 PRICE: $15.95
Syrah, grenache and carignan form the blend here, offering up candied fruit, a floral, talcum-powder-like overtone and whiff of cayenne pepper. It's not quite my style, but I can see the appeal.