Julie Harrison - Languedoc-Roussillon

Publish Date
Thursday, 13 October 2016, 4:29PM
By Julie Harrison

Having visited Paris many visitors to France head south to Avignon and then turn east to explore Provence and the beautiful Cote d’Azur.   If you prefer something a bit less glitzy then the South-West region of Languedoc-Roussillon, is a great place to explore as it is rich in history and good wine.  Wine has been made in this region for centuries and currently there are over 300,000 hectares of vineyard with one in ten bottles of the world’s wine being produced here.  Going back 20 years wines from this region had a reputation for poor quality, rustic red wines made from varieties like Carignan and Cinsault but many of these non-appellation vineyards have been replanted with the emphasis on Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre as well as international varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.   Traditional white grapes include Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Macabeu, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Vermentino and Muscat, with the region being particularly famous for its sweet wines.

Whilst there are still some very ordinary wines produced here, there have been some big changes in how the wines of this region are classified making it easier to sort out the good from the bad.   If you look out for wines classified under the Appellation Controlee/Protegee system or wines falling under the IGP classification then you can get some quality for a good price.

As the name suggests we are looking at two different regions but they are traditionally grouped together. The Roussillon area borders the eastern Pyrenees and has a distinct Catalan feeling about it which is not surprising at it has been part of Catalonia in the past.  The appellations Cotes de Roussillon and Cotes de Roussillon Villages produce luscious, rich GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre) blends.  The Rivesaltes, Maury and Banyuls appellations in this region produce port like sweet wines based on Grenache varieties which should not be confused with the sweet Muscats that are also produced in Languedoc-Roussillon.  Floral whites made from Macabeu  often bolstered up by Vermentino, Marsanne , Roussane or Grenache Blanc are also produced in this area.

Moving into the coastal plains of Languedoc you find reds, rose and a few white wines.  Again we are looking at Grenache/Syrah blends dominating with additions of Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault or Lledoner Pelut.   Some of the key appellations include Languedoc, St. Chinian,  Faugeres, Picpoul de Pinet,  Corbieres,  Limoux,  Minervois and Fitou. 

Wines that fall under the new IGP classification are often made from international varieties and as they put the variety on the label it makes it easier to know what you are getting.  You can find good value Grenache, Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.  Examples of what to look out for on the label to identify these wines include IGP Pays d’Oc, IGP Pays de l’Herault or IGP Aude.  Cremant de Limoux and Blanquette de Limoux are sparkling wines from this region that represent very good value.  It is believed that the monks from an abbey in Saint-Hilaire began producing the first sparkling wine back in 1531 well before Champagne was first made.

This is a great region of France to visit with historical sites such as  Pont du Gard, the  Nimes Amphitheatre, the citadel of Carcassonne  and other  medieval Cathar Castles sitting alongside natural wonders such as the Camargue, the Canal du Midi and the Pyrenees.  With good wine and food on offer as well it is an area that deserves exploration.

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