Languedoc Roussillon Wine Region
Jun 09,2023 | Magnum Opus Wines
Languedoc-Roussillon Wine Region
The Languedoc-Roussillon vineyard spans the Mediterranean coastline from the Pyrénnées Mountains and French border with Spain to the Rhône River Delta and region of Provence. The northern boundaries of the region sit on the Massif Central with the Cévennes mountain ranges dominating the area. This entire geographical zone, hosting 23 AOCs and 19 IGPs, comprises a total of 230,000 hectares producing 1.12 billion bottles of wine, the world’s largest wine region, being responsible for more than a third of France's total wine production (L-R region alone produces more wine than the USA).
2500 years of winemaking
The history of Languedoc-Roussillon wines can be traced to the first vineyards planted along the coast near Narbonne by the Ancient Greeks in the 5th century BCE. Along with parts of Provence, these are the oldest planted vineyards in France.
For the first thousand years, wines from the Languedoc were generally obtained using a singular method, known as “passerillage”, consisting of drying the grapes out in sun after picking in order to achieve over-ripening.
In Paris during the 14th century, wines from the Saint-Chinian area were prescribed in hospitals for their "healing powers".
The building of the Canal du Midi in the 17th Century gave the vineyard a certain impetus by creating a dynamic regional economic area, particularly beneficial to the Mediterranean wine industry.
In 1868, Phylloxera put an end to this promising development. This devastating insect attacked the roots of the vine, thus destroying the whole vineyard and obliging wine-growers to rip out the native plants. By using vines having been grafted onto more prolific American plants, the Languedoc wine-growers were seized by frenetic replanting, heedless of the quality, only concerned by quantity with yields reaching 120 hectolitres per hectare. Harvests were certainly abundant, but to the detriment of the wine quality, often considered light and lacking in flavour. 1900 saw an exceptional harvest of 2.1 billion litres and market prices dropped, which lead progressively to 1907 Revolt of Languedoc Winegrowers, repressed by the government of Georges Clemenceau.
During both World Wars the Languedoc-Roussillon was responsible for supplying the daily wine rations given to French soldiers.
Several decades of surplus wine production in France and French consumers moving away from cheap wines in the 1970s, prompted many Languedoc wine producers to start refocusing on higher quality, uprooting vast areas of the vineyards and reducing average yield by more than half (now = 50hl/ha), adopting measures in favour of biodiversity, and the enhancement of local landscapes and architectural heritage.
This qualitative restructuring strategy of the Languedoc vineyard over the last 40 years was marked by the progressive classification of its land into various Appellations of Controlled Origin (AOC) in the late 1990s and concluded by the official recognition of AOC Languedoc in 2007.
Today Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest producer of organic wines in France with 22,000 hectares of organic vines, which represents 36% of the French organic vineyard and 7% of the global organic vineyard.
A Mediterranean Climate and Scrubland
The South of France is wrapped around the Mediterranean Sea like a natural amphitheatre, where nature and culture create a charming landscape with little villages full of stories. The majority of annual rainfall occurs during winter, the sea breeze is caressing the vines planted in coastal valleys, while the tramontane inland wind from North-West accentuates the dry climate.
The peak growing season (between May and August) is very dry, with scents of thyme, rosemary, lavender, bay laurel, born in the wild, in the limestone and hot scrubland; whereas parsley, dill, fennel and sage draw their vigour from permeable and cool soils.
A stunningly beautiful and aromatic landscape which perfume the vineyards: saffron note, hint of anise, clove accent, juniper fragrance, and 1000 other flowers meet in a bouquet of scents, from Appellation to Appellation.
Contrasting character of this Languedoc-Roussillon wine region that we discover in 1000 colourful reflections of its wines. Structured, masculine wine from arid massifs, full-bodied wine from undulating valleys, structured wine from terraces, and lively wine from maritime lands ... Each landscape has created a wine in its image.
With global warming, temperature reached an all-time highest peak in July 2019 of 45.9 Celcius, raising concerns about the future of agriculture in the region.
The best known AOCs appellations in the Languedoc-Roussillon include:
Languedoc AOC is a regional appellation, covering almost the entire Languedoc-Roussillon vineyard. It has replaced the Coteaux-du-Languedoc appellation since 2007. The vineyard area is over 10 000 hectares and the production about 50 million bottles, 85% red and rose, 15% white wine. There are 1700 independent winemakers, and 72 cooperatives.
Sommieres AOC is located at the north-eastern end of AOC Languedoc, in the Gard department, 20 km west of Nimes. Formely part of Coteaux du Languedoc, it was awarded its own AOC in 2011. The red wine must be a blend of at least 2 grapes amongst Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsaut. The yields are capped at 45 hl/ha and the wine must be aged at least 12 months. They are full-bodied, well-structured with ripe fruits, earthy notes and round tannins.
Pic-Saint-Loup AOC is produced on the border between Hérault and Gard, north of Montpellier, just at the foot of the Cévennes. The mountain of Pic Saint-Loup, which overlooks the production area, gives it its name. Its was included in the Coteaux-du-Languedoc AOC in 1985, which became the Languedoc AOC in 2007, and finally received its own AOC in 2016. There are 1200 hectares planted with Syrah (38%) and Grenache (28%), Cinsault (16%), Carignan (14%) and a little of mourvèdre (4%). The production is around 3 million bottles, 85% red and 15% rose. The red wines present aromas of blackcurrants and sweet spices, with notes of garrigue and leather. The rosés exhale notes reminiscent of raspberries and strawberries. Their palate should be fruity and well balanced.
Terrasses du Larzac AOC, recognized in 2014, is a red wine produced north-west of Montpellier, around the town of Aniane. The V-shaped area is about 650 hectares for a production of 2.2 million bottles. Made up of gritty, pebble covered soil, the Terrasses du Larzac's orientation at the foot of the Larzac plateau is arid with juniper, thyme, rosemary, heather and olives trees growing freely. The distance from the sea, the 13C to 14C variation between day and night temperatures in summer, and the fast draining soil act as a natural influence on the vines' balance. The 100 winemakers are proactively protecting their environment and today 2/3 of the production is certified organic.
Picpoul de Pinet is an AOC for dry white wines made exclusively from Piquepoul blanc (an indigenous grape variety) north-west of the Thau lagoon, around the town of Pinet, in a triangle shape area between Agde, Sete and Pezenas. It was part of the appellation Coteaux-du-Languedoc since 1985 and was awarded its own AOC in 2013. It is the largest white wine AOC in Languedoc with 1500 hectares and a production around 9 million bottles. The wines are green-gold in color, full-bodied, and show lemon flavours. They have a soft, delicate nose, with pleasant hints of acacia and hawthorn blossom. Perfect pairing includes fish soup, a local delicacy.
La Clape AOC is located in the Aude department, from Narbonne to the Mediterranean. Classified Regional Natural Park since 1973 for its outstanding natural beauty, fauna and flora. La Clape massif benefits from a harsh, dry climate. The sun and wind together beat down and sweep across the bare rocks. Here vines act as natural firebreaks and certain parts of the 750 hectares vineyard have been especially planted with this in mind. The harshness of the climate ensures a high-quality wine-producing area. It was awarded its own AOC in 2015. The production is around 3.5 million bottles, 80% red and 20% white, in various blends from all the Languedoc grapes.
Faugères AOC, recognized since 1982, covers an area 1800 hectares 20 km northwest of Beziers, and consists mainly of primary, schist soils. The majority of the region's vineyards have full southern exposure and lie on rugged slopes up to 500m above sea level. The climate is Medirranean with a mountain influence. It is characterized by mild winters, hot and dry summers and rare and concentrated precipitation over the winter period. 80% of the production is red wines with sweet aromas of blackberries, licorice, notes of leather and flint stone. Traditionally, they accompany meat and poultry.
Saint-Chinian AOC was recognized in 1982, with 3000 hectares corresponding to 15 million bottles of wine. 85% Red, 10% Rose, 5% White. The terroir is split into 2 distinct parts. In the north of the appellation, the soil is composed of shale, as in the vineyard of Faugères. The wines produced on schists are deep red, fruity with a smooth acidity and grilled notes. These are wines that remind the perfumes of the maquis and ready to drink young. South of the appellation, beyond the village of Saint-Chinian, the soils are clay-limestone. The wines produced on this type of soil are fresh and lighter with perfumes of scrubland and red fruits and a great ageing potential.
Minervois AOC was recognized in 1985, today there are 5000 hectares located between Narbonne and Carcassonne in the departments of Aude and Herault. Its northern limit is formed by the Montagne Noire and its southern limit is located along the banks of the Aude river. From an altitude of 50 meters near the shores of the Mediterranean sea to 500 meters on the foothills, climatic conditions vary enormously both in terms of temperature differences (3 to 4 degrees) and rainfall (500 to 800 mm / year). To this are added soils of various geological origins, which makes it possible to obtain wines with different personalities, from delicious, fruity, easy-drinking wines, to be consumed throughout the year, to exceptional vintages of wines for laying down. The production is around 22 million bottles, 94% red, 4% rose and 2% white. The wine must be a blend of at least 2 grapes varieties, usually Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsaut for red and Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Rolle (Vermentino) and Maccabeu for white. The single varietal are sold as Vin de Pays.
Cabardès AOC was recognized in 1999, 500 hectares vineyards that runs up against the foothills of the Montagne Noire directly north of the medieval walled city of Carcassonne. Located at the border between Languedoc-Roussillon and South West wine regions, it is the only AOC in France that permits the blending of grape varieties typically found in Mediterranean climates like Syrah and Grenache (40% minimum) with varieties typically found in Atlantic climates like Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (40% minimum). Malbec and Fer Servadou contributing to the blend up to 20%.
Malepère AOC, recognized in 2007, is the westernmost appellation in Languedoc-Roussillon. This wine-growing region is made up of plains and hills carved out by the rivers Dure, Orbiel and Clamoux in its southern part. To the north, the terrain is steeper and dominated by the scrubland with the start of the Montagne Noire. The climate is a mix of Mediterranean and Atlantic. The dominant grapes varieties of the appellation are Merlot (50%); Cabernet Franc (the dominant grape variety in the appellation's rosé wines); Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsaut, Malbec, Grenache and Syrah (marginal here). The most used white grape varieties are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chenin Blanc sold as IGPs. Bringing together only 18 estates and 3 cooperative cellars, it is an appellation little known to the general public. The appellation has less than 500 hectares of vines now for an annual production of 1.8 million bottles.
Limoux is located in the eastern foothills of the Pyrénées, south of Carcassonne. Wine historians believe that the world's first sparkling wine was produced in this region in 1531, by the monks at the abbey in Saint-Hilaire. Wine is produced over 7800 hectares, under 5 AOCs, the first 3 of which are sparkling wines: Blanquette de Limoux (Mauzac > 90%); Blanquette “méthode ancestrale” (without liqueur de tirage and disgorgement), both recognized in 1938; Crémant de Limoux (Chardonnay > 60%) recognized in 1990. The Limoux Blanc AOC was created in 1959 for still white wine which must be aged in oak barrels. The main grape of the region is the Mauzac, locally known as Blanquette, with a characteristic flavor that can be reminiscent of apple cider, followed by Chardonnay and Chenin blanc. The Limoux AOC (Merlot > 50%), was created in 2005 to include red wine production. The area is divided in 4 terroirs, according to the altitude and local climate which influence the harvests date: the Mediterranean Terroir (closer to Montpellier), Terroir d’Autan (around Limoux), the Oceanic Terroir (west of Toulouse), and Terroir of the Haute-Vallee approaching the Pyrennees.
Corbières AOC was created in 1985, it is Languedoc’s largest appellation with 11 000 hectares corresponding to 50 million bottles, 85% red wine, 10% rose and 5% white wine. Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsaut are the main red grapes varieties. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Bourboulenc and Rolle (Vermentino) are the most common white grapes grown. Due to its size and geography, Corbières encompasses a variety of soil types and microclimates and the wines are just as varied as the terroirs.
Fitou AOC was recognized in 1948 and is the oldest of Languedoc. It is an appellation for beautiful dark red wines, powerful and structured, produced on 2500 hectares south of the Massif du Corbieres, in the Aude department. The main grapes are Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre. The annual production varies around 11 million bottles. The terroir is divided into 2 distinct parts separated by a limestone plate. The littoral part has its vineyard installed on hard limestones with shallow and stony soils. On the Mount Tauch, the ground consists mainly of schists or gerous limestones. On the same terroir winegrowers also have the right to elaborate, with different grape varieties, the 2 AOCs Vin Doux Naturel Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes.
Rivesaltes AOC created in 1936, regroups 5200 hectares producing some 15 million bottles of red and white sweet fortified wines (Vin Doux Naturel). The winemaking process, known as Mutage is similar to Port: neutral grape spirit is added to the must to halt fermentation while sugar levels are still high, preserving the natural sweetness of the grape. The alcohol content must be at least 15 per cent by volume and the residual sugar content > 100 grams per liter. The wines are then matured, sometimes in oak barrels, or typically outside in glass bottles for a year. While in the sealed bottles, the wine is exposed to sun, rain, temperature swings, which allows the wine to maderise. The wine then matures in oak barrels. Provided they meet certain conditions, Rivesaltes styles can be labeled Grenat (> 75% Grenache, aged 12 months minimum in oxidative environment), Ambré (white Rivesaltes aged > 2 years), Tuilé (red Rivesaltes aged > 2 years), Hors d'âge (> 5 years ageing), Rancio (if it develops flavors found in Cognac, Armagnac, and old Whisky). The only grapes allowed for red Rivesaltes wines are Grenache noir, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Macabeu, and Malvoisie. Red Rivesaltes have complex flavors of raisins, nuts, chocolate, caramel, browned sugar and molasses. The main grapes used for white Rivesaltes are Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Macabeu, and Malvoisie. They develop aromas of dried fruits, vanilla, brandied cherries, and honey.
Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC, recognized in 1956, is similar to Rivesaltes excepting for the only 2 grapes varieties allowed: Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Muscat of Alexandria. The vineyards extend over some 5300 hectares in the Pyrénées Orientales, historically and culturally part of Northern Catalonia. Roussillon has about 300 days or 2,555 hours of sunshine each year, called the sunniest in France. It is crossed by 3 rivers that traverse the area from west to east, draining into the Mediterranean. They are, listed north to south: the Agly, Têt, and Tech. The region has a wide variety of soil types: granite, gneiss, and brown and black schists around the Agly Massif in the northwest and at the foot of the Albera Massif. There are also red limestone soils by the Corbières Massif, sandy soil by Les Aspres, and stony terraces along the region's rivers. Vineyards in the region are commonly on terraces and hills. Annual production is around 13 million bottles. The wine is usually served cold as an aperitif and used in cooking sauces or desserts.
Maury AOC has its roots in the work of the Catalan physician Arnaldus de Villa Nova who perfected the technique of stopping fermentation with distilled alcohol, known as Mutage, in the late 13th century. Maury AOC was recognized in 1936 for the fortified wine and 2011 for the dry red wine. The area is over 1700 hectares, northwest of Perpignan, and the annual production is over 6 million bottles. Almost all wines are red, made from at least 75% Grenache noir, blended or not with Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Macabeu, Malvoisie, Syrah, and Muscat. Similar to Banyuls, the wines is racked into clear glass demi-johns or bonbonne and left out in the summer sun to oxidize and age. It is then blended with wines aged in oak barrels or concrete tanks, depending on the style intended by the winemakers. Maury usually have a dark red color with strong cherry and ripe berries aromas, noticeable tannins, toasty and nutty flavors. Maury are one of the rare wines that pair well with chocolate desserts.
Banyuls AOC, recognized in 1956, for a fortified apéritif or dessert wine, available in 3 colors, made from old vines (at least 50% Grenache but also Carignan, Cinsault, Syrah, for reds and roses, Grenache Blanc, Malvoisie, Macabeu and Muscat for whites), cultivated in terraces on the slopes of the Pyrenees bordering to the south, Catalonia in Spain. The production area is limited to 4 communes of the Côte Vermeille: Banyuls, Cerbère, Collioure and Port-Vendres. The boundaries of the AOC are identical with the Collioure AOC which is used for the non-fortified wines produced in this area. The 1,750 hectares of vines are structured in terraces supported by more than 6,000 km of dry stone walls. This gigantic structure, which shapes an entire landscape, was built over 7 centuries ago by the Templars and maintained by winegrowers to protect the thin layer of earth that covers the ground from erosion. The vines shares this arid terroir with pines, olive trees, cork oaks and aromatic wild scrubland. All the work is done by hand and the yields are capped at 30 hl/ha. Banyuls Grand Cru must be at least 75% Grenache and matured for 30 months. This painstaking work is rewarded with unique flavors, full of sunshine and aromatic intensity. The ripen fruit aromas give way to rich and complex aromas of dried fruits, tobacco, leather, spices.
Côtes du Roussillon AOC is a regional appellation for wines made in the Roussillon since 1977. The production is around 25 million bottles, 68% red, 28% rosé and 4% white. The red wines must be made with at least 3 varieties of grapes, Grenache and Carignan are dominant. The whites are light and develop floral aromas. The rosés are round and fruity. The reds are full bodied with complex aromas of ripen fruits and spices.
Côtes du Roussillon-Villages is a sub-appellation in the valley of the river Agly. The appellation is in the foothills of the Pyrenees and the best wines are normally produced from vines on the slopes, not in the valley floors. It is only for red wines, with stricter appellation regulations.
The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region is home to numerous grape varieties, including international grape varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, and Chardonnay, predominantly used to produce Vin de Pays d'Oc, Vin de pays d'Aude, Vin de pays de l'Hérault, and Vin de Pays du Gard.
Among the reds, Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, and Mourvedre are major grapes of the Corbières, Faugères, Fitou, and Minervois AOCs. Cinsault is also commonly used in rosé production along with Piquepoul noir, Terret noir, and Grenache Noir. Grenache is also the main grape used in the fortified wines of the Banyuls and Rivesaltes region.
Main white varieties include Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, which is also the principal grape in the sparkling wine Blanquette de Limoux, as well as Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat à Petits Grains used in the sweet fortified wines Muscat de Rivesaltes. As well as some Roussanne, Marsanne, Rolle, Bourboulenc, Clairette blanche, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Piquepoul blanc, Piquepoul gris, and Macabeu.
The largest vineyard in the world = 230,000 hectares. Almost 1/3 of France Vineyard. (About the size of Argentina or Australia and NZ vineyards put together).
1.39 billion Litres were produced by the Languedoc-Roussillon region in 2015, including 810 million Litres of IGPs and 260 million litres of AOCs.
19 IGPs = 51% Red wine. 39% Rose wine. 10% White wine.
23 AOCs = 76% Red wine. 14% Rose wine. 10% White wine.
Overall = 93% Still wine. 5% Sparkling wine. 2% Fortified Wine.
Languedoc-Roussillon wine turnover in France = 200 million bottles and 635 million Euros in 2015.
Languedoc-Roussillon is the largest producer of organic wines in France with 22,000 hectares of organic vines, which represents 36% of the French organic vineyard and 7% of the global organic vineyard.
We sincerely hope that you enjoy reading thos blog and learned a thing or two about Languedoc Roussillon.
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