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What we call “the South of France” is what the French themselves call “le Midi”: the southern half of France, minus Provence and the Cote d’Azur. Bounded by the southern slopes of the Massif Central, by the Pyr�n�es and the Rhone River, as well as by the Mediterranean coast and the Spanish border, the Midi takes in a lot of territory: Languedoc, Fitou, Minervois, Faug�res, and Corbi�res, among other vineyard areas. It’s a beguiling and at times hauntingly beautiful region — and one that’s well worth exploring for its fine-value wines. A good argument could be made that it’s in the Midi that the greatest single improvement in French wine-making has taken place over the past decade or so. In the old days, the Midi offered mainly over-alcoholic blending wines. In recent years, though, the quality of the region’s wines has improved beyond recognition. Most of the Midi wine that gets imported into the States today comes from top wine growers and is not only well made but remarkably well priced. The rapport qualit�-prix, as the French say, is enviable: extremely good wines for $15, damned-near great wines for $20. In the case of the wonderful, deep-throated “Classique” bottling of Pic St-Loup from the Domaine de l’Hortus, the price is a simply amazing $11. These are wines to be snapped up — all the more so because they make perfect pairings with that grand old staple of American outdoor summer cooking, the barbecue. The best Midi wines are usually inky black in color, robust, heavily extracted, and highly concentrated. You can feel the weight on the tongue, just as you can judge the thickness of the fruit on sight. Summer in the backyard is no time to be drinking old clarets or red burgundies. Instead, raise a toast to little-known Madiran and Minervois, Pic St-Loup and St-Chinian — and make this your summer of vinous discoveries. FROM THE MIDI � 1998 Costi�re de Nimes “Cuv�e Prestige” (Campuget), $11 � 1998 Coteaux du Languedoc “Mas des Chim�res,” $12 � 1998 Coteaux du Languedoc “Prieur� de Saint-Jean-de-B�bian,” $24 � 1998 Pic St-Loup “Classique” (Dom. de l’Hortus), $11 � 1997 Madiran “Tradition” (Lafitte-Teston), $9 � 1998 Minervois “Oupia,” $7 � 1998 Coteaux du Languedoc “Lancyre,” $11 � 1998 Fortant de France “Merlot R�serve,” $18 � 1998 St-Chinian “Futs de Ch�ne” (Viranel), $9 � 1998 Minervois “R�serve” (Gourgazaud), $11 � 1995 Madiran “Vieilles Vignes” (Bouscasse), $25 � 1998 Faug�res “St. Antonin,” $10

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