Whether you have been drinking wine for years or are just getting your palate wet along the vino path, the region of Languedoc-Roussillon produces a variety of wine styles that can captivate any palate. Its contrasts, appellation to appellation, are enough to make anyone a fan before too long.
The History of the Languedoc
The Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest wine region in the world, producing more than a third of all French wines. While this magnitude of production may impress you, it was, at one point, a factor in public demur of the area's wines.
In the mid to late 19th century, the region turned from producing quality wines written about with favour, to producing wines on mass to support the growing demand, partly due to the Industrial Revolution.
From the 5th century to the early 19th, the Languedoc was hailed for its wine. Its position as France's oldest wine-producing region fit it well and proudly. According to Karen MacNeil's book, The Wine Bible, "In the 14th century, wines from certain parts of the Languedoc-Roussillon were so famous that the hospitals of Paris prescribed them for their healing powers" (p.294). Alas, it was unfortunate that monetary expansion, at the expense of quality, led the region down the path of mass wine production.
With mass production being the regional wine program, the area soon became known for thin, one-dimensional red wine. It was the low-tier table wine, and used for military rations during WWI and WWII. Though outwardly, the poor quality wines continued to be made, there were winemaker protests in opposition, and regional evangelists making wine that paid homage to the early years of production; to the styles of wine that gave the region a place of prominence in wine.
Overall, it took a series of protests during the 20th century, changing consumer palates, and an unfortunate and literal, 'wine lake' from overproduction to get the region to refocus its energy.
Regional transformation created two camps, those who were forced to leave winemaking finding it hard to monetize anything but mass production, and then, the camp we benefit from today, those with a keen focus on quality production. The winemakers and grape growers who continued, concentrated on the right varietal expressions for their soils and vineyard area. The launch of Languedoc AOC ( Appellation d’Origine Controllée) in 1990 also provided guidelines for quality that vignerons strived for, keeping in mind labelling benefits. This was a way for them to distance themselves from the torrid mass-produced wine of the past. What we saw was that, over time, wine producers invested heavily in improving their winemaking techniques and cellars, which resulted in a marked improvement in quality across the board.
Given the history of the Languedoc and their relatively recent regional transformations, in a sense some could say the region is young when it comes to the rebirth of overall quality production. It is for this reason that I believe the Languedoc is an area to watch given its road ahead.
Ironically, the very thing that makes Languedoc interesting to me (its recency to world acclaim) also makes it highly affordable and one of the best value for money wine regions out there.
Languedoc Range of Wine
Within the Languedoc-Roussillon area, there are 36 appellations covering 40,000 ha. Given the size of the area, you get a wide diversity of soils, climates and grapes, resulting in very unique wines, appellation to appellation. Diverse terroir and the many microclimates also allow for a wide range of flavors and aromas. The variety of wines and their styles makes the Languedoc a joy to discover, one glass at a time.
The Languedoc-Roussillon produces an extensive range of varietals, from old classics like Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvèdre, to more modern grapes like Syrah, Viognier, and Marselan. You can find them blended together or as single varietals.
When you try some of the red blends of Grenache, Carignan, and Syrah from the area (the most popular in export markets outside of the regions rosé), you find it hard to fathom that the wines of this place were once thought of as thin and one-dimensional. These blends come with a level of complexity that takes you from fruit to non-fruit dimensions: red and black berries, plum, fig, mushroom, dark chocolate, and peppercorn. At times, depending on the sub-appellation, you'll also find aromas of dried herb and lavender.
The rosé wines from the region stand out for their lovely bouquet of ripe citrus, stone fruit, and white flowers, enveloping you into a tropical sensory trip, coupled with that recognizable minerality that makes it a great food wine. These are primarily blends of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Carignan. Look out for rosé blends that include Syrah. This is becoming a very popular style for the added structure and peppery notes Syrah can add.
Though not as common to see in export markets are single-varietal bottlings of Languedoc's Marselan grape. This is a red wine of elegant aromas and a layered flavour construct of red, black, and blue fruit and dried oregano. It is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache cross, and both parents come to mind while sipping.
The must know grapes from Languedoc Roussillon
Muscat à Petits Grains
The takeaway from a visit to the Languedoc-Roussillon area, physically and by way of your glass, is that not only are the wine delicious, but they are also affordable! In fact, they are among the best-value wines in France, if not the world!
What's more, is that regional diversity means there is something for everyone in this vast and distinct wine region, making it a must to explore.