The Sud de France/Languedoc-Roussillon area is the world’s largest single wine-producing region, representing a third of the volume of France’s wine production. Its production, about two billion bottles a year, exceeds that of South Africa and Chile combined.
Historically, Languedoc was the sleeping giant of the wine world. Previously known for producing large amounts of poor-quality wine, the region is now making a wide range of world-class wines, thanks to its clement climate, excellent terroir, a policy of replanting grape varieties, and the sustained efforts of a growing number of dedicated, passionate vignerons.
The Sud de France region boasts a diverse range of wines – including red, white, rose, sweet, sparkling wines, with a choice of Appellations d’Origine Contrôlées (AOCs), Vin de Pays, single variety and blends – which can be matched to a variety of occasions.
The vinyards of Languedoc, stretching from the edge of Nîmes to the Spanish border, offers a large variety of named specialities: one can find the AOCs, Corbières, Corbières-Boutenac, Languedoc, Malepère, Minervois, Minervois La Livinière, Saint-Chinian, Faugères, Limoux, Blanquette de Limoux, Crémant de Limoux, Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale, Clairette du Languedoc, Cabardès, Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois, Muscat de Lunel, Muscat de Mireval et Muscat de Frontignan.
The very last of the AOCs awarded was the AOC Languedoc. It was the emergence, in May 2007, of this new region-wide appellation that marked an essential step in the development of the Languedoc as a major player in wine production. It unified the whole region of Languedoc-Roussillon, from Nîmes to Spain, in which these other appellations already existed.
The soils and the climate are the principal factors from which the diversity of wines originate. It is diversity that characterizes the languedocian soils, and so accordingly the diversity of appellations produced: vast pebble terraces, sandstone and marnes, calcareous and schists, clay soils, powdery, sandy soils, sticky, etc. It is this wide variety of assets that give the terroirs of the Languedoc the necessary specificity for each appellation. A terroir, from ‘earth’ (terre in French), is more than just soil; it is a complete context for the growing of grapes — so soil may be the essential anchor but the winds, the light, the rain, (in a word) climate is part of a terroir too.
It is the development of the Mediterranean grape varieties, such as Grenache, the Mourvèdre or the Syrah, in Languedoc in the last 30 years that have led to a profound restructuring of the vineyeards.
The Grenache grape, introduced into France in the Middle Ages, allows production of the naturally-sweet wines (such as Banyuls, Maury…) and the very grand wines for laying down, structured and aromatic as a result of carefully controlled production (associated with the grape varieties containing more tannin, such Syrah or Mourvèdre).
Above all, it is about the Picpoul blanc; A grape variety originated in the Midi. It is mostly cultivated in the Department of Hérault. This variety has given its name to an AOC Coteaux du Languedoc “Picpoul de Pinet” , the production of which is situated around the lake of Thau. It allows the production of dry white wines, edgy and enjoyable.
A palette of wines with the tastes of Languedoc
Reds, Whites, Rosés, bubbly wines, the AOCs of Languedoc come in a variety of colours and a wide variety of tastes. Here are some notes on some of the specialities of the different appellations found in Languedoc, and we begin with the Minervois.
Wonderfully placed between the Montagne Noir and the Canal du Midi, the plain of Minervois vineyards are enveloped in a microclimate of sea winds perfumed by wild rosemary and the herbs of the adjoining garrigue (into which some vineyards have crept). The Minervois is
known for white, red and rosé wines, as well as its delightful Muscats and “vins nobles.” It received AOC classification in 1985.
Grape varieties : Mourvèdre and Syrah bring full aromatic complexity and finesse to the Grenaches noirs. Carignan and Cinsault are for red and rosé wines. White varieties are numerous: Grenache, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Maccabeu, Rolle and Muscat.
Vineyards : Located within a triangle delimited by Carcassonne, Narbonne and Béziers, the vineyards stretch in terraces over 18,000 hectares, 5000 of which are in production.
Wines : The East of the Minervois produces well-structured reds of a handsome, ruby colour. The centre offers distinguished, supple wines, while the whites are fresh and rich in floral aromas. To the West, reds are lively and aromatic, and whites are drier. Higher up, reds have more body while whites are more inspired by fragrances of heather. Saint-Jean de Minervois is the home of the Muscat, a natural sweet wine, both subtle and fruity.
With a distant view of the ramparts of medieval Carcassonne, the hills and slopes of Cabardès grow both Mediterannean and Atlantic grape varieties from which to compose their unusual wines. Cabardès was awarded AOC recognition in 1998.
Grape varieties: A unique combination of two families of grape varieties: the Atlantic varieties of Merlot, Cabernet, Cot and the Mediterranean varieties of Grenache and Syrah.
Vineyards : The Cabardés, both a Region and a Vineyard, bordered by the Canal du Midi in the south, is located between Carcassonne and the Pic de Nore (1210 m) on the gentle slopes of the Montagne Noire, in the heart of Languedoc between Toulouse and the Mediterranean. Here the chosen varieties thrive in the sun and the white stones of the chalky foothills. This terroir is composed of four different types of soil — granites and terraces in the south; chalky marl on the slopes; and siliceous formations of the Montagne Noire to the North — and is subjected to both east and west winds.
Wines : The blending of these grape varieties makes the wines of Cabardés rich, complex and well-balanced.
Running past the ruined Cathar citadels, cut through by opposing winds, the massif of Corbières produces wines markedly intense, spicy and full-flavoured. Corbières received the AOC classification in 1985.
Grape varieties : Syrah, Grenache noir, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault for reds and rosés. Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Maccabeu, Bourboulenc for whites.
Vineyards : A landscape of gorges and wild hill slopes flooded with sunlight, the Corbières mountain range towering over the Golfe du Lion and its string of lakes stretches over 23000 hectares, 19000 of which have received AOC classification. This is the largest appellation in Languedoc.
Wines : The reds are intense, round and full-bodied, with hints of pepper and spice. The tannic structure is rich and blended, giving the Corbières wines genuine aging potential. Whites are fine and floral, bringing together their unctuousness and liveliness in perfect harmony. The rosés are lively and pleasant.
A unified region with two distinct aspects: there is the Fitou of the maritime lagoons, and the Fitou of the dryer back country. There are notes of cloves and of bay emanating from dark ruby-red wines. It received the AOC classification in 1948, and is the oldest of the AOC reds in Languedoc.
Grape varieties : The main grape varieties are the Carignan grown on its favourite soil, ideally completed by the Grenache noir. The Syrah and Mourvèdre bring flavour and persistence in the mouth.
Vineyards : The vineyards of Fitou are divided into two production areas. The steep hills in the South East of the Corbières mountains, and the terroir along the coast, home of Fitou which gave its name to the appellation. The vineyards stretch over 2500 hectares.
Wines : There is generosity in these potent wines. Some need 4 or 5 years to fully mature.
Along the high valley of the River Aude and probing into the hills, the vineyards of Limoux produce the fizzy Blanquettes and Cremants as well as still white wines. South of Carcassonne, this verdant valley of the Aude is cool and subject to the Atlantic. Bordeaux grapes thrive here. There is even a little pinot noir but historically the best wines are sparkling Crémant de Limoux, once made only from the local mauzac grape but now with more chardonnay and chenin. “Best producer by far is Françoise Antech”, says The Wine Society, and from our limited testing we agree – in particular, we recommend this middle-range offering (about €8 in Intermarché but sometimes only €5-6 in Spar at Peyriac).
Grape varieties : Mauzac, Chenin and Chardonnay.
Vineyards : 3000 hectares around Limoux, where the Atlantic and Mediterranean influences rub shoulders.
Wines : Blanquette de Limoux was awarded AOC status in 1938. It is mainly produced from the Mauzac grape variety, and aged for at least 9 months. Best served brut throughout the meal or demi sec for dessert.
Crémant de Limoux attained its AOC in 1990. It is composed of no more than 70% Mauzac and no less than 30% Chardonnay and Chenin, and aged for 12 months. Best served brut for apéritif or to accompany fish or white meat.
The Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale, also gained AOC status in 1938 (Limoux AOC in 1993), is produced by a second fermentation in the bottle which is due to the sugar contained in the Mauzac at harvest. This wine can reach 6/7° and is an ideal companion for sweet desserts.
A densely wooded massif, Malepère marks out the west of the Aude in an exuberant mosaic of vineyards. It presents a successful union of diverse influences, both Mediterranean and oceanic, which results in the miraculous microclimate of the Malepère.
Grape varieties : In reds, Merlot is the dominant variety, associated with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Cot, Grenache and Cinsault bring their Mediterranean touch.
Vineyards : At the centre of the triangle of Carcassonne, Limoux and Castelnaudary, these are the most westerly of Languedoc vineyards. From the Mont Naut, it’s a succession of hills and vales. These are vineyards, on lime-clay hills and gravelly terraces, are gifted with wonderful varieties and a unique personality.
Wines : The combination of grape varieties contributes in giving the wines of Malepère originality; these are well-structured wines to accompany Cassoulet (the local speciality casserole), red meats, game or cheeses. Younger wines give off aromas of red fruits and blackcurrant; older wines have notes of spices, vanilla and roasting.