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  ABC Wine Issue 35, November 2005   
Languedoc-RoussillonLanguedoc-Roussillon  Contents 
Issue 34, October 2005 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 36, December 2005

Languedoc-Roussillon

The wine region from which it is being produced more than a third of the French wine, was known in the past for its ordinary wines, a past which has been completely forgotten by the quality of its present

 The wine history of Languedoc-Roussillon is very similar to a renaissance. This interesting French wine region - which is located to the southern part of the country in the Mediterranean coast - was known since tens of years ago for the pretty ordinary quality of its wines and for the fact it was the most productive region of France. In fact, even today, the Languedoc-Roussillon produces more than a third of the whole French wine and it is the region having the widest acreage of vineyards. The condition of our days however tells a truly different story. A new generation of producers and wine makers was capable of an extraordinary development, by improving the quality of grapes, the selection of the best vineyards, by adopting a scrupulous attention and modernization of wine technologies. Today Languedoc-Roussillon can be considered among the most interesting wine areas of France: not only for still being the most productive region, but also - and above all - for the high quality of its wines which are usually distinguished for the very good price to which are being sold.

 The wine region - which is today recognized as AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) - is made of two distinct areas: the Languedoc, located to the east part of the region in mainly plain territory, and Roussillon, located to the southern part near the Pyrenees. The union of the two regions defines the Languedoc-Roussillon AOC area, sometimes called in short Languedoc. Today Languedoc-Roussillon has a strong fame for its quality wines and - in particular - for its Vin Doux Naturels, of which the most renowned ones are those produced with Muscat Blanc grape, and Banyuls, mainly produced with Grenache Noir. In the region are also produced other styles of wines, of which the most representative ones are red - mainly produced with Carignan, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre and Syrah grapes - as well as the Crémant de Limoux, an interesting classic method sparkling wine produced with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Mauzac grapes. Despite Languedoc-Roussillon is defined as AOC, in this region there is also a considerable production of Vin de Pays.


The Languedoc-Roussillon
The Languedoc-Roussillon

 In the Languedoc-Roussillon region is also produced most of France's vin de table and the quantity of vin de pays is of about 80%. As for red dry table wines, the main production is about red wines, mainly produced with Grenache Noir, Carignan, Cinsaut, Mourvèdre and Syrah grapes. The production of white wines - although it is increasing - represents a pretty modest part, as well as for the production of rose wines, pretty marginal and mainly destined for local consumption. Languedoc-Roussillon - besides being the first French region for the widest vineyards acreage among the AOC areas - is also the region in which, according to historical records, viticulture is among the most ancient ones of France. It is in fact believed the first vineyards were planted in these areas since 125 b.C. by Romans in the areas near the colony of Narbo - in the places where today is found the city of Narbonne - the same areas in which are today found the AOC areas of Corbières, Minervois and Coteaux du Languedoc.

 Despite historical sources agree on the fact the introduction of the vine in this area is dated back to Roman times, some hypothesis support the idea Celts were already involved in the cultivation of vine, as well as it is believed Greeks were responsible for the introduction of vines. Suppositions apart, it is known in the colony of Narbo was produced wine which was then transported to the Garonne river and from there to the Roman legions in Aquitaine, as well as to the Gironde where it was shipped to other countries. It seems the high wine production of Languedoc-Roussillon was already a problem during Roman times: historical sources tells in this lands was produced more wine than it was exported. The wine making and viticulture of Languedoc-Roussillon had a further development during the Middle Age. In this region - just like in all the other wine areas in Europe - thanks to the establishment of monasteries and therefore to the work of monks, viticulture benefited from a higher attention and with that the production of wine as well.


 

 The commercial development of Languedoc-Roussillon began since the seventeenth century and in particular with the export of wine to the Netherlands, including the picardan, a sweet wine produced with Clairette and Picpoul grapes, and, in later times, of brandy. Concerning this aspect, an important role was played by the port of Sète, from which was shipped wine to the Netherlands and England. The tradition of sweet wine production in this region is in fact very old, a tradition which still today distinguishes Languedoc-Roussillon in the worldwide wine scene. Among the first production areas for sweet wines to become famous, it certainly is mentioned Frontignan, whose vin doux naturels produced with Muscat Blanc grape are appreciated and looked for still today. An important event for the commercialization of wines in this region was represented by the construction of railways - in 1855 - which allowed a rapid shipment of wines to the northern areas of France. This event made increase of four times the production of wines in Languedoc-Roussillon.

 This positive period was suddenly stopped - just like in any other wine country of Europe - with the arrival of phylloxera. Even in finding a remedy for this vine parasite, Languedoc-Roussillon has a record: the vineyards in this region were in fact the first ones to be restored after the devastation. This was possible thanks to experimentation and to the use of grafting, as well as to the introduction of new hybrid varieties, including the varieties created by Bouschet. The rapid reconstruction of vineyards allowed Languedoc-Roussillon to become, at the end of the nineteenth century, the main producer of wines in France with a percentage of 44%, almost the half. The production was mainly about light and ordinary wines, a characteristic which was common in Languedoc-Roussillon until the beginning of the 1990's. The productive system of the region was mainly regulated by wine cooperatives - there were more than 500 and most of them was established during the 1930's - a phenomenon which drastically reduced, by leaving the scene to private producers, when it was fully understood the importance of quality production which also corresponded to the drastic reduction of the production of vin de table.

 

Classification of Languedoc-Roussillon

 The wine region of Languedoc-Roussillon is recognized by the French system as AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, Appellation of Controlled Origin), however most of the wine produced in this region belongs to the Vin de Pays category, of which are being defined more than 60 denominations. The production of wines belonging to this category represents about 70% of all the Vin de Pays produced in France. The production of wines in Languedoc-Roussillon is about white, rose, red, sweet and sparkling wines. The AOC areas defined in this region are: Clairette du Languedoc, Collioure, Corbières, Coteaux du Languedoc, Côtes du Rossillon, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, Faugères, Fitou, Limoux, Minervois and Saint-Chinian. An important role in the wine production of Languedoc-Roussillon is played by vin doux naturels, mainly produced with Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Grenache Noir grapes. The AOC vin doux naturels produced with Muscat grapes are Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Lunel, Muscat de Mireval, Muscat de Rivesaltes and Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois. The ones produced with Grenache Noir are Banyuls, Banyuls Grand Cru, Maury and Rivesaltes.

 

Production Areas

 Languedoc-Roussillon is among the French wine regions having the widest acreage destined to vineyards and which mainly goes from the western Mediterranean coast to the feet of the Pyrenees. Most of the vineyards are cultivated along the arc of territory coasting the Mediterranean, however quality wines are produced from the vineyards planted in the high plates found at the feet of the Pyrenees or in Cévennes mountains. The climate is of Mediterranean type with temperatures that in summertime are higher than 30°C (86°F) and with pretty scarce rains. The composition of the soil is pretty varied, from alluvial soils of the territory in the coast, to limestone, chalk and gravelly soil, typical of the internal areas. Before the arrival of phylloxera, in Languedoc-Roussillon were cultivated more that 150 different varieties; today the quantity is drastically reduced and mainly concentrated to the typical varieties of France also known in other countries. The main white berried grapes cultivated in Languedoc-Roussillon are: Bourboulenc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Mauzac, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Picpoul, Rolle, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. The main red varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignano, Cinsaut, Grenache Noir, Lladoner Pelut, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Picpoul Noir, Syrah and Terret Noir.

 

Dry Table Wines

 In Languedoc-Roussillon the production of dry table wines is mainly done by cooperatives from which come most of the total production. The quality of these wines certainly is not very interesting: the best production of this region comes from small and private producers. Among the areas recognized as AOC, the ones worth of higher attention are Corbières, Faugères, Minervois, Saint-Chinian and Coteaux du Languedoc. Corbières is the most renowned area for dry wines in Languedoc-Roussillon and the production is mainly about red wines. Located in the western part of Languedoc-Roussillon - near the Pyrenees - the wines of Corbières are mainly produced with Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes and - marginally - with Grenache Noir, Cinsaut and Terret Noir. In the appellation of Corbières and with the same grapes is being produced a small quantity of rose wines, whereas for the production of white wines - produced in even smaller quantities - are used Bourboulenc, Clairette and Grenache Blanc grapes.

 Faugères - located in the center of Languedoc-Roussillon - produces red wines only. In this appellation is the Carignan grape to dominate vineyards and with which are being produced good wines only in case the yield in vineyards is pretty low. In the area of Faugères are also cultivated Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir grapes, usually blended to Carignan. Minervois is another interesting area for the production of red wines, in particular the ones from the Livinière district. The rich and robust wines from Minervois are mainly produced with Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah grapes. With the same grapes are also produced rose wines. Even in the area of Saint-Chinian the production is about red wines only, mainly from Carignan grape, however in recent times Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir are getting more and more common in the area. In the Coteaux du Languedoc area, the production is mainly about ordinary red wines, however from here also come good surprises, in particular from the districts of Pic Saint-Loup, La Clape, Picpoul de Pinet, Montpeyroux and Saint-Saturnin. A particular mention goes to sparkling wines Crémant de Limoux and Blanquette de Limoux. Crémant de Limuox is produced with Mauzac grape to which is added Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, whereas Blanquette de Limoux is produced with the classic method, sometimes with the traditional méthode rurale as well, mainly from Mauzac grapes - locally known as Blanquette - to which can be added Clairette, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay grapes.

 

Vin Doux Naturels

 The most renowned wines of Languedoc-Roussillon certainly are the ones belonging to the category of Vin Doux Naturels, naturally sweet wines. Despite the name, sweetness in these wines is obtained by means of fortification - that is the adding of alcohol - during fermentation. The adding of alcohol stops the effect of yeast, while increasing the alcohol volume in the wine. This process - which is called mutage - allows the keeping of a high quantity of sugar which will give the wine its typical sweetness and an alcohol by volume from 15 and 18%, which sometimes can reach 21%. The wines are then aged according to the style. The white ones - produced with Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains or Muscat of Alexandria grapes - are aged in the cellar while avoiding the effects of air, therefore they are bottled in order to keep the freshness of aromas. Red wines - mainly produced with Grenache Noir grape - generally undergo oxidative and reductive processes, a fundamental and indispensable operation in order to develop complex aromas such as - for example - dried fruit, vanilla, coffee and honey.

 The cultivation of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains grape was already common during Roman times and it is still widely practiced in this territory. There are five AOC Vin Doux Naturels produced with Muscat grape in Languedoc-Roussillon: Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Lunel, Muscat de Mireval, Muscat de Rivesaltes and Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois. These wines are all produced with Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, with the only exception of Muscat de Rivesaltes - the wine which is produced in higher quantities of the five - which is mainly produced with Muscat of Alexandria. Red Vin Doux Naturels are represented by Banyuls, Banyuls Grand Cru, Maury and Rivesaltes. Of them, the most renowned one certainly is Banyuls, mainly produced with Grenache Noir grape in the area near the eastern feet of Pyrenees. Banyuls is produced in the sweet and dry styles, it is aged in casks for a period which can also reach 30 months for Banyuls Grand Cru. This wine is also produced in the rancio style, in which the oxidation is favored by exposing the casks to sun rays during summertime. Banyuls is characterized by its complex and rich aromas of raisin, dried fruit, vanilla, coffee and tea leaf.

 




 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 35, November 2005   
Languedoc-RoussillonLanguedoc-Roussillon  Contents 
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