If you want to experience an underground wine scene – or maybe even define one – you could probably start in the Languedoc where growers like Maxime Magnon are revisiting the romance and the realities of traditional winemaking while many of their neighbors squeeze out enormous quantities of bulk juice. Magnon stands in a place that few of his contemporaries understand. Its a space defined by the intersection of gritty manual labor, a passion for authenticity, and the idea that an individual winemaker can be both transparent and present in a wine. One of the interesting manifestations of this decidedly Sartrean take on wine-as-agriculture is the newness of the old. Magnon, young as he may be, is an arch-traditionalist. He tills his earth manually, farms by hand, and ferments his grapes in whole clusters, without removing the stems. That wines made this way can taste so new, vibrant and exciting is a mysterious thing. It’s either a statement about where we’ve ended up as wine drinkers or a testament to Maxime’s virtues as a steward of the grape.
Magnon’s La Bégou is a blend of grenache gris with grenache blanc. Vin de Pays de la Vallée du Paradis. Now that’s a mouthful. This particular corner of the Languedoc is responsible for more than three quarters of all of France’s Vin de Pays bottlings. Many of them generic red wines with little more to offer than one big sour cherry note. La Bégou is a standout. It’s a super complex white wine bottled in small quantities with incredible care. In fact, the layers of fruit, minerality and nuttiness peel away in a fashion that reminds me of the depth one finds in a good white Burgundy. That’s where the similarity ends. Here you get beautiful honeydew melon, orange, lime and hazelnut aromatics framed by a solid pop of acidity and minerality. It also sports a very cool, unusual waxy density. If this is the Languedoc, I’m all in.