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Languedoc and Roussillon wine guide

The Languedoc and Roussillon regions are Mediterranean coastal stretches in the south of France, stretching from Provence to the Pyrenees at the Spanish border. On a map, the region does not look great, yet one out of three French wines with a designation of origin is produced there.

These independent provinces were coupled into an administrative region called Languedoc-Roussillon to streamline the management of politics and economies in 1982. In 2016, they joined Midi-Pyrénées to become a larger region called Occitanie.

Despite the administrative affiliation, the history, culture and wines of Languedoc and Roussillon have evolved on distinct paths.

Long considered a hub for value wines, the reputation of Languedoc and Roussillon has improved considerably in recent years. New talent attracted by falling land prices has helped fuel the region’s revival.

Vineyards in Faugères / Photo by Sami Sarkis via Getty

Overview

In 2019, the two regions produced 313 million gallons of wine, according to statistics provided by the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc (CIVL) and the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon (CIVR). Languedoc produces 90% of the wine in their combined region, and Roussillon claims the remaining 10%.

Winemaking parallels can be drawn with the New World, where creativity and experimentation with grapes and styles thrive.

“Things have changed on almost every level: quality, innovation, distribution, marketing, sustainability,” says Caryl Panman, co-owner and director of Chateau Rives Blanques in Languedoc, regional revivals.

Panman reports an influx of ambitious “neo-winemakers” seeking affordable land and winemaking opportunities in this “El Dorado of wine.” In addition, some local winemakers “think big,” adds Jan Panman, co-owner and manager of Château Rives-Blanques. Many are abandoning cooperatives and merchants to bottle their own wines.

House Cazes Roussillon
Amphorae at Maison Cazes in Riversaltes, Roussillon / Courtesy Maison Cazes

Emmanuel Cazes, wine ambassador at Maison Cazes in Rivesaltes, describes Roussillon as “the land of new opportunities”.

Roussillon, once a major producer of high-harvest carbonic-macerated sweet wines and Carignan, suffered a decline in sales in the 1990s. This forced producers to think and innovate.

“We have several assets to help us evolve towards high-end wines: low harvest, old vines, hot and dry climate, diversity of terroirs”, specifies Cazes. “It was just about finding inspiration and energy from a new generation of producers.”

These avant-garde producers adopt varieties native to Roussillon such as Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Grenache Noir. Languedoc has about 33% of French organic vineyards and represents about 10% in the world. For example, from 2017 to 2020, more than 27% of the vineyards of Occitanie converted to organic farming.

Languedoc Appellations

The Languedoc produces a range of red blends, although producers also make rosé and white wines as well as traditional method sparkling wines.

Languedoc has 23 Controlled or Protected Designations of Origin (AOC/AOP), covering approximately 16% of production. Wines that do not fall into this quality category can be classified as Protected Geographical Indication (IGP) selections.

Regional Appellation AOC Languedoc forms the basis of the classification system. This broad category includes red, white and rosé wines. Producers who use this appellation can blend wines from Languedoc and Roussillon grapes.

In this context, there is 10 sub-appellations. Important appellations include Minervois, which produces red, white and rosé wines; Corbières (red, white, rosé); Picpoul de Pinet (white); Larzac terraces (red); Pic Saint Loup (red, rosé); and Saint-Chinian (red, white, rosé).

There are 5 common appellations or villages: Minervois-La-Livinière, Corbières Boutenac and La Clape, Faugères and Fitou.

There are 4 syrupy appellations. The best known is Muscat de Frontignan.

There are 3 sparkling wine appellationsall in Limoux: Blanquette de Limoux, Crémant de Limoux and Blanquette de Limoux Traditional Method.

There are also regional and sub-regional designations, historic and heritage site designations. Three additional IGP appellations catch up with the rest: Aude, Gard and Pays d’Hérault.

Chateau Rives-Blanques Limoux
Left: Vineyards of Château Rives-Blanques, Limoux. Right: harvest at Rives-Blanques / Photo courtesy of Chateau Rives-Blanques

Known primarily for its robust and concentrated reds, Minvervois is one of the best known appellations of Languedoc. The rugged terrain pushes into the foothills of the garrigue-covered Montagne Noire.

The landscape of Corbieres is even more dramatic, with mountains and valleys stretching out to the Mediterranean. Fituwhich comprises two slices of land in the Corbières, was the first appellation of Languedoc and was founded in 1948. Both appellations focus on red and rosé blends.

For traditional method sparkling wine, Limoux whether it’s a Blanquette made from the local white variety Mauzac, or a Crémant de Limoux made from Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Larzac terraces, founded in 2014, is promising. The Syrah flourishes in Pic Saint Loupnorthern appellation of the foothills of the Cévennes. Saint-Chinian and Faugeres have rocky sites at dizzying altitudes. Clairette from Languedoc and Picpoul de Pinet specifically produce fresh and crisp white wines.

The Roussillon Appellations

Roussillon forms an amphitheater facing the sea. Surrounded by three massifs and cut by three rivers, its terroir varies enormously.

There are 14 PDOs that allow producers to grow 24 grape varieties, as well as two IGPs.

Much of the appellation system reflects the history of Roussillon sweet wines. Even today, Roussillon produces 80% of French natural sweet wines (VDN). These sweet wines retain their natural sugars after fermentation has been stopped by adding an alcohol.

the five AOP VDNs are Rivesaltes, Maury, Banyuls, Banyuls Grand Cru and Muscat de Rivesaltes. Since the 14th century, winegrowers have cultivated Grenache for use in red, white or rosé wines, as well as Muscat. Grand Cru Banyulsconsidered the finest expression of the style, is only made in good years.

The dry wines of Roussillon have increased their notoriety. Export markets are now demanding it, which makes it possible to compensate for a drop in VDN consumption. The widest dry wine appellation is Coasts of Roussillonbase level red wines made largely from old vines of carignan, grenache, syrah, mourvèdre and occasionally cinsault.

Coasts of Roussillon Villages produces exclusively red wines which tend to be of higher quality due to lower yields. Maury Sec, Colliourecommunal Coasts of Roussillon Villages (Caramany, Latour de France, Lesquerde, Tautavel) and Côtes du Roussillon Villages Les Aspres produce wines for laying down at a good price. The winegrowers here favor the terroir over international trends.

In the Agly valley near Maury, known for its black shale soil, a natural wine scene has developed around deeply flavored and mineralized reds and whites. They are sold as PGI Catalan Coasts.

Story

Viticulture has been a staple of southern France for thousands of years. The Greeks and Phoenicians brought vines to the area around the 6th century BCE. The Romans then developed the industry, forever linking wine to the local economy.

The expansion of viticulture continued after the completion of the Canal du Midi, which linked the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, in 1681. The arrival of the French railway system in 1868 further strengthened the fortunes of the region.

Roussillon vineyards
Vineyards near the town of Tautavel in Roussillon / Getty

As elsewhere, Languedoc and Roussillon suffered from phylloxera in the late 1800s. The 20th century saw viticulture dominated by local cooperatives, while overplanting created the conditions for the famous wine lake surplus and the price drop. In the 1970s, a grubbing-up program paid farmers to rip up the least suitable vineyards in order to concentrate production on favored sites.

While Languedoc has deep ties to France, Roussillon retains its connection to Catalonia, an autonomous community in northeastern Spain. The people of Roussillon share a common language and a political past that dates back to the Crown of Aragon in the Middle Ages.

For hundreds of years, both countries claimed governance of Roussillon until Spain ceded it to France in 1659. Today, the customs, culture and gastronomy of Roussillon, including the grapes and styles of wine produced, retain their connection to Catalonia. Road signs in the capital Perpignan refer to both languages.

Soils and climate

Languedoc and Roussillon have hot, dry Mediterranean climates defined by hot summers and mild temperatures throughout the year. The heat and sun could otherwise cause the grapes to overripe, but the best vineyard sites stay cool thanks to their altitude and coastal breezes from the Atlantic and/or Mediterranean.

The soils testify to ancient geological chaos with varied and complex layers that rarely repeat themselves. There is everything from clay and limestone to shale, granite, marl and sandstone. Many of the region’s best wines come from the rocky soils of the mountain foothills.

grapes

Languedoc and Roussillon embrace native varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault. The flavors capture the endemic scrubland that grows in both regions. Styles range from bold, focused and smooth to light and pretty, depending on the grower and the blend of grapes used.

In Roussillon, all three colors of Grenache are present: Grenache Noir for the reds and its lighter counterparts Gris and Blanc for the whites.

Wine House Crazes
Left: Grenache Noir grapes. Right: Barrels from Maison Cazes / Photos courtesy Maison Cazes

Languedoc winemakers grow Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Roussanne, Marsanne, Vermentino and Viognier for use in dry white wines. Muscat is the most important grape variety for VDNs, especially Muscat de Frontignan. About 20% of Languedoc wine production is in white wines.

They also thrived during the global rosé mania. Languedoc accounts for 34% of French rosé wine and around 11% of world rosé production.

Miren de Lorgeril, president of the CIVL and winemaker of Maison Lorgeril, says that the wines of Languedoc have “evolved in a very positive way… this evolution is reflected not only in the success of the Languedoc appellation, in particular its rosé, but also in the diversity of names.

Languedoc embodies the new French wine scene, said de Lorgeril, the one that is “dynamic and rebellious, whose objective is to shake up a world of wine that is a little too wise and cerebral”.