maison-des-vinsIf you are staying at Chateau Ventenac this year, we felt that this is a very helpful guide to tasting some of the wines of the Languedoc region.

Local wine expert Louise Hurren gives a rundown of the region’s most visitor-friendly vineyards.

Want to know how wine is made?

This Brit-and-Kiwi-run winery offers an educational tour called “How Wine is Made”. Take a trip round the vineyard and winery with winemaker Jonathan, in English or French, followed by a tutored tasting. Learn how the combination of terroir, vineyard management and winemaking decisions determine the style and quality of wine. Cost €10 per adult (reserve ahead). Our tip: pre-order a home-cooked lunch for €15 per head. Rachel is a good cook, and it will save you schlepping around looking for a decent restaurant. Try the wines you’ve tasted with some food, see how they stand up.

Domaine Treleor, 16 Traverse de Thuir, 66300 Trouillas (near Perpignan)
(04 68 95 02 29
Opening times: 9 am – 6pm, Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday year-round.

Love bubbles and stylish white wines?

Dutchman Jan and his Anglo-Irish wife Caryl are charming people who make very highly-reviewed white wines in the cooler Limoux area, near Carcassonne. Their sparkling wines are particularly special (Rives-Blanques is recommended by French wine mag La Revue du Vin de France as one of its ‘must visit’ vineyards). If you want to splurge on a special meal afterwards, drive five minutes along the road to Domaine Gayda‘s restaurant, with its fabulous views across the Pyrenees (for a cheaper, less formal option, they also have an outdoor dining and BBQ area with funky straw hut huts). You can also taste and visit the winery here.

Château Rives-Blanques, 11300 Cépie (near Limoux)
Tel. 04 68 31 43 20
Opening times: by appointment.

Travelling with kids?

An organically-farmed domaine situated high on a hill. Group visits and tastings are €30 for a group of 1-6 people (€5 per additional person): book in advance. There’s fun for all the family because at the foot of the hill is a goat farm: stretch your legs with a good walk downhill to pet the goats, taste the cheese and let everyone run around. If you want to let your hair down and stay a few days, they have a comfy gîte which comes with use of the owner’s 12-metre swimming pool, with stunning views. On a Sunday morning, the food market in Saint-Chinian (10 minutes by car) is a must-see.

Domaine de Combebelle, Combebelle Le Haut, 34360 Villespassans (near St Chinian)
Tel. 04 67 38 09 86
Opening times: 4pm – 7 pm Thursday to Sunday from April to October.

An easy drive from Montpellier

A small-but-perfectly-formed winery run by friendly Frenchman Fabrice. In the heart of a village, this recently-renovated domaine is clean and tidy, has an attractive barrel room with some informative displays, and a courtyard where you can sit, sip and soak up the rays. They make AOC Pic St Loup (if you’re feeling energetic, you could climb the Pic in the morning and reward yourself with a tasting afterwards) and host a range of wine-related walks, visits and tastings in spring and summer: check their website for details. Bonus point: in the same village, the wonderful Auberge du Cedre is THE place to book for your lunch or dinner (ask for a table on the terrace and take a look at their excellent, extensive wine list).

Mas de l’Oncle, Place Miolane, 34270 Lauret (30 minutes from Montpellier)
Tel. 04 67 67 26 16
Wine in 3D (déguster, dîner, dormir… )

Virgile Joly is the poster boy of Languedoc’s organic wine movement. He’s also the star of a book (Virgile’s Vineyard) and an all-round nice chap. His tasting room is tucked down a tiny back street, but if you park near the village square, you’ll spot his offices easily (check the ancient wine-making equipment parked outside). Earnest but personable, he’ll tell you as much (or as little) as you want to know about wine making in the south of France. After your tasting, head back to the main square for a meal at Le Pressoir. Recently reopened, this is a reasonably-priced, smartly decorated spot with a shady terrace, a wood-burning oven and a neat list of local wines (including Virgile’s, naturally). There are two nice, new gîtes in the village too, just a few doors up from the restaurant. So if you want to go the whole hog, you could sip, sup, and then sleep. How convenient…

Domaine Virgile Joly, 22 rue du Portail, 34725 Saint-Saturnin
Tel. 04 67 44 52 21
Opening times: Monday-Friday 9am – 6pm, Saturday 2pm – 6 pm

Try before you buy

You know that awkward feeling when you walk into a wine shop and don’t know what you want? Hundreds of bottles on the shelves, and no idea which one to choose? The chap behind the counter asks if he can help: cue tricky conversation as you try to explain, in French? Forget it. At this place, they have those cool machines that dispense tasting measures of wine, into a glass, for you to try. For FREE. With 30 wines to try, you’re sure to find something you like.

La Maison des Vins, 1 rue de la Promenade, 34360 Saint-Chinian
Tel. 04 67 38 11 69
Opening hours: Monday – Friday 9am – midday, 2pm – 6.30pm, Saturday 9am – midday (open Sunday mornings in summer)

Wine tasting for softies

The problem with visiting vineyards is that someone has to drive. Languedoc wine domaines tend to be found in remote spots that aren’t served by public transport, so you’ll either be spitting, or appointing a designated driver who’s not going to have that much fun watching you swallow. The answer to your prayers is Wendy Gedney, a bubbly British woman who runs fun, friendly and informative wine tours, in English, in Languedoc. She’ll drive you around for a day’s wine touring in her air-conditioned minibus, take you for a tasty lunch, give you the low-down on Languedoc’s wines, appellations and wine makers, and deliver you back to your departure point at the end of the day. No hassle. Day tours start from €95 euros per person, departing from Montpellier, Pézenas or Carcassonne, more details available on the website.  Tel. +33 (0)6 42 33 34 09


This guide is reproduced with kind permission from the publishers of ‘Montpellier and More’ where you can read the original article in full –