Although La Clape is one of the top wine areas of southern France’s vast Languedoc region, it is also one of the least known. La Clape only gained the prestigious AOP status (appellation d’origine protégée) in 2015, but those who know the red wines of this small district have long realized that they are among Languedoc’s best.
Long ago, La Clape was an island, and these days, you can take in the Mediterranean on its southern end from jagged limestone cliffs. (On a visit, I did just that from the remains of a World War II German bunker in one of the vineyards.)
All of the above came to mind recently upon tasting the exquisite 2016 La Clape “Grand Vin” from Château l’Hospitalet. The château is owned by Gérard Bertrand, a former professional rugby player turned wine impresario who oversees a Languedoc empire comprised of dozens of wine brands across dozens of appellations.
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While many of them are relatively inexpensive wines for “everyday” drinking, the Château l’Hospitalet La Clape is distinctive. A blend of 60 percent Syrah, 30 percent Grenache, and 10 percent Mourvèdre, the 2016 is a big yet elegant wine whose balance belies its high alcohol of 15 percent ABV.
Concentrated dark fruit — blackberry and cassis — and lots of herbal notes are on the nose and palate. There’s a fair amount of new oak, but it doesn’t dominate, and a good measure of acidity keeps things on the fresh side.
The region is famous for its garrigue, a term that refers to Mediterranean scrub plants like rosemary, thyme, juniper, and others that grow on limestone soils, often adjacent to vineyards. Many believe that the herbs inform the grapes.
This wine is well priced at about $34, and is a natural for all kinds of grilled meats — seasoned, of course, with some of that garrigue.