The Wines of Languedoc-Pézenas

  • By Jacky Blisson MW
  • 22 Dec 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
Made possible by
Pézenas vineyards - Credit : Conseil Interprofessionnel des AOC du Languedoc

Pézenas is a town of just under 10,000 inhabitants in the Languedoc department of Hérault. It is located between Montpellier and Béziers, 20 km north of the Mediterranean. Neighbouring appellations include Faugères, Cabrières, and Picpoul-de-Pinet. Vineyards have been planted in the Pézenas region since the 5th century BC. 

History

It was the ancient Greeks and then Romans that brought the culture of winemaking to Pézenas, and throughout the Languedoc region. Pézenas, then called Piscennae, was a thriving Roman outpost by the 1st century BC. The numerous winemaking artifacts discovered around the town suggest a robust local wine industry at the time. 

Winemaking continued to flourish in Pézenas well into the 18th century. Rampant growth during the industrial revolution, and notably with the expansion of train lines to the region, was dramatically curtailed when Phylloxera ravaged the area in the late 19th century. Around the turn of the last century, a transition from mass production to higher quality wines took place in and around the Pézenas wine-producing area.

Pézenas is heralded for its many artisans and rich cultural history. The town was home to famous French playwright Molière. Pézenas’ cooperative winery was named Les Caves Molière in tribute to the town’s most famous resident. 

Climate And Terroir

Pézenas has a warm Mediterranean climate with excellent grape ripening potential. Its inland location limits maritime influences giving the area quite even weather patterns with only modest nighttime fluctuations. The dry growing conditions are best suited to drought resistant grapes like Grenache Noir, Cinsault, and Carignan. 

The vineyards of Pézenas spread north from the town across a variety of different terrains ranging from relatively flat plains to hillsides up to 300 m in altitude. Soils are diverse in nature, with concentrations of schist, limestone, and alluvial deposits mixed with volcanic basalt. 

Appellation Rules

Pézenas was granted Languedoc AOP sub-appellation status in 2006. If certain conditions are met, producers can label their wines as AOP Languedoc-Pézenas. 

Wines must be made from grapes sourced within 15 specified communes set out in the appellation guidelines. Only red wine is allowed, made from a combined minimum of 70% Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. 

In the past, Cinsault and Carignan were widely planted in the area. Carignan is a particularly vigorous variety when left unchecked. When yields are high, Carignan wines can have coarse tannins and rustic flavours. In efforts to improve winemaking in the area, Carignan was massively uprooted in favour of grapes like Grenache and Syrah. Now, Carignan and Cinsault can only make up a maximum of 30% of Pézenas wine blends.

Grapes from newly planted vines cannot be used in AOP Languedoc-Pézenas wines until after the seventh growing season. Yields are also controlled to a maximum of 45 hectolitres/hectare. Furthermore, grapes may not be harvested until they have reached a potential alcohol level of 12.5%. Finally, wines must be matured at the winery for a full year. They may only be released for sale on or after September 1st in the year following the harvest. 

Wine Tasting & Serving Notes

The Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre (GSM)-led blends of Pézenas offer ripe-to-baked red and dark fruit aromas, mingled with hints of spice and wild garrigue herbs on the nose. They are generally dry, medium to full-bodied, with moderate acidity, a velvety texture, and supple tannins. 

Given their ripe nature and occasionally warming alcohol, they are best served chilled to approximately 16 – 18°C. The bold, almost sweet flavours and approachable tannins of Pézenas wines pair nicely with moderately spicy, savoury dishes. 

Producers of Note

Les Domaines Paul Mas
Seigneurie de Peyrat 
Château Montpezat
Domaine de Fabregues
Mas Belles Eaux
Domaine les Aurelles
Domaine de Nizas.

Pézenas vineyards - Credit : Conseil Interprofessionnel des AOC du Languedoc