Unwined: Château Coupe Roses Orience

Unwined: Château Coupe Roses Orience

Brought to you by Unwined | Story by Brian Acton

Kermit Lynch, writing in his classic “Adventures on the Wine Route,” describes the Languedoc as “…a land of enormous possibility. These are wines that grab you by the nose and force you to pay attention;” and, they seem to “penetrate right into one’s bloodstream.” I’ll admit, in my preparations for our latest UnWined U Class on the Languedoc-Roussillon, I too became hooked. The white wines were of the bold and moreish style I’ve written about previously and the reds caused me to wonder, “Côtes du Rhône, who?” They were redolent with notes of olive tapenade, grilled thyme, and wet rocks, floating over a core of juicy blackberry. So, foodie too. They were reminiscent of Hermitage at less than half the price. It was clear what Kermit was onto those years ago.

But, the trick is conveying this excitement in a class format. The Languedoc-Roussillon is full of contradictions and nuance, almost defying generalization. Firstly, while adjoined with a hyphen and all too frequently spoken of in the same breath, the Languedoc-Roussillon represents two distinct regions with their own culture and winemaking traditions. The Languedoc is quintessentially Mediterranean French and is a crescent-shaped region that encompasses Nimes, Montpellier, Narbonne, and Toulouse; while the Roussillon is Catalan in its identity and borders the Languedoc at Fitou and Corberies and runs to the coast in the south at Collioure, framed by the Pyrenees inland. One is winemaking on the frontier; the other is winemaking in the wilderness, as a friend aptly put it.

Then there is just the sheer size and variedness of the terrain in question. Taken together, the Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest geographically protected area in France with more vines under acre than Bordeaux. Its wines run the gamut from sparkling wine that potentially predates Champagne to fortified wines that predate those of Port by hundreds of years. Not only are the styles of wine produced varied, but so is the terroir: the Languedoc alone has 20 distinct appellations with diverse soils, elevations, and microclimates. Yet, despite all of this complexity and history, the Languedoc-Roussillon is probably best known for the immense quantities of “cheap and cheerful” Pays d’Oc wines—a regional appellation with little in the way of regulation that spans both the Languedoc and the Roussillon—it churns out. Indeed, it was one of the largest contributors to the overproduction problem referred to as the “European wine lake.” These are the things that the textbooks tell you anyway. A far cry from “wines that penetrate straight into one’s bloodstream” with which we began.



Chateau Coupe Roses, owned by the Le Calvez family since 1614, is located near Minerve, one of the best sites in Minervois. Managed by Francoise Le Calvez and oenologist Pascal Fissant, they use synthetic sprays only when necessary. They harvest all their vineyards by hand and make special cuvees with minimal or no racking and extensive lees.


If you pull on any one of these threads, however, a more compelling story emerges, one that gets us back to where we began. A good place to start would be with the EU’s Vine Pull incentive program, the results of which have been dramatic. In 2017 there were 224,00 hectares under vine in the Languedoc-Roussillon, compared with 292,00 in 1997, and 431,000 in 1968. The literal separation of the wheat from the chaff. The same warm and dry Mediterranean climate that allows for abundant production, also fosters conditions that make organic and biodynamic viticulture easier than in, say, Germany’s Mosel River Valley, for example. The Languedoc is the largest producer of organic wine in France, with roughly on third of France’s organic vineyards and ten percent of the total certified vineyards around the world.

The same relatively inexpensive land prices that allow for large successful negociant operations also allow for interlopers from other wine regions or other walks of life to reinvent themselves in the Languedoc-Roussillon. And so, we have famous French winemakers setting up shop alongside relative neophytes—names such as Rothschild, Rostaing, Pithon, Gros, Tollot, and Busch, shoulder-to-shoulder with ex-bankers, accountants, and tech-sector workers. Finally, the same loose regulations that allow for the production of innocuous varietally labeled wines, allow for a conscientious producer like Mas de Daumas Gassac to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wine that challenges many a left bank Bordeaux’s precision.

The wine I am recommending to you today is from an estate that embodies many of these themes, Château Coupe Roses “Orience” 2018 ($38). Coupe Roses was founded in 2008 by the Le Calvez family with a purchase of 15 acres in Petit Causse, which is a part of the Minervois cru in the Languedoc. Their holdings have grown to 143 acres today, with the additions since 2008 being scattered among 40 plots in Le Causse. A causse refers to an outcropping of barren rock that can support little more life than olives, grape vines, or the quintessential Mediterranean shrubbery known as garrigue. All(!) of their holdings are farmed biodynamically and sit between 750 to 1,350 feet above sea level, which creates cool nights that extend the growing season up to two weeks.

This is the domaine’s top cuvée and easily among the best I’ve tasted in the Languedoc-Roussillon. It is 90% Syrah with 10% Grenache, raised in barrels that are up to one-third new. Tinged with black and blue fruits, violets, and some spice from the oak, this wine simultaneously speaks of its mountain origins while possessing an easy plushness. It is just the thing for food from an early season grill, or a late winter/early spring braise.


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