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Languedoc

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The wines of Languedoc are experiencing an exciting renaissance. Having reinvented itself in recent decades by shifting its production focus to wines of truly high quality, the region has become one of the most dynamic in the country. Leading winemakers combined time-honored traditions with state-of-the art techniques to revitalize the region’s appellations, and their innovative vineyard and vinification practices have yielded a diverse range of terroir-driven wines, including the greatest percentage of organic wines in France. Their efforts have led the Languedoc AOC to become one of the fastest-growing categories from France. Today the region’s red, white, rosé, sparkling, and sweet AOC wines are being sought out as new “discoveries” by consumers around the world who are seeking exceptional quality and value. (AOCs may be classified as AOPs in the EU system.)

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Languedoc is the largest producer of organic wines in France, as well as the biggest producer of IGP and AOC rosé wines in the country, exceeding the production of Provence. The region has also become a welcoming area for foreigners, attracting producers not only from other regions of France but from the world over. Languedoc is now flying high on the reputation of its rich history, culture, and revolutionary spirit.

Located in Southern France, the Languedoc is part of the large Mediterranean coastal area now known as the Occitanie region, reaching from the Spanish border on the southeast to the region of Provence in the east. The Languedoc makes up approximately 90 percent of the territory; Roussillon occupies the other 10 percent. Together they represent France’s largest wine-producing region and vineyard area—more than one in three French wines is produced here. The greater Languedoc-Roussillon region is also the largest vineyard area in the world with a geographic identity. Viticulture is one of the main drivers of the local economy, and many of the wineries are small family holdings that date back generations.

The Languedoc is known for being quite distinct from Roussillon as far as culture, civil administration, and wine styles are concerned. Languedoc AOCs represent about 16 percent of Occitanie wines. The region is home to multiple climate and soil types, which affect its wines in different ways.

The majority of Languedoc’s wines are red blends, but rosé and still white wines are produced here, as are sparkling wines made in the traditional method, a technique made famous because of its association with Champagne but one that’s believed to have been discovered in Languedoc’s Limoux area. Documents dating to 1544 support this claim. There are also four Languedoc sweet wine appellations, which produce vins doux naturels from the Muscat variety.

Geography

The main area of the Languedoc wine region stretches across three départements—from the Aude to the Gard by way of the Hérault—and then extending to the Pyrénées-Orientales where it meets Roussillon. The region’s proximity to the Mediterranean Sea helps provide greater consistency across vintages than in other areas of France.

For the most part, the region has a Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and mild springs, autumns, and winters. There are, however, varying microclimates throughout. They can be broken down into five groups.

  1. Mountain: In the north of the region, the climate tends to be more continental, similar to that of the nearby Rhône.
  2. Coastal: Along the coast, there is a strong Mediterranean influence, with abundant sunshine.
  3. South: In the southern part of the region, the climate is similar to Roussillon’s—making it suitable for more production of Carignan.
  4. Center: In the heart of the region, the climate is classically Mediterranean.
  5. West: In the west, the region experiences a mix of continental and Atlantic influences, which help create ideal conditions for Languedoc’s sparkling wines.

The climate and strong winds, which help prevent pests and disease by giving natural protection to the vineyards, contribute to the region’s ability to sustain a high level of organic production—36 percent of all organic French wine comes from the Languedoc – making it the country’s leader in this category. Overall, the region receives little rainfall, and in some areas the amount of rain is the lowest in France. But the Languedoc has reserves of water in most of its calcareous soils. Soil types vary, with clay and limestone being the most dominant, though there are areas where schist, shale, granite, pebbles, and sandstone are common.

History

Languedoc’s vineyard history dates to the 5th century BC when the Greeks introduced vines to the area. And, as occurred in many other French vineyard regions, winemaking expanded under the Romans. Viticulture has continued to play a crucial role in the regional economy since that time.

In the first millennium, a unique method called passerillage was used to produce wines; harvested grapes were dried in the sun for over-ripening. In the 17th century, construction of the Canal du Midi, which connected the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, gave a boost to the wine sector. In the late 19th century, the railway system made it easier to ship wine to Northern France, which led to a period of great prosperity for the Languedoc wine community.

Phylloxera began attacking Languedoc vineyards in 1868. As a result, vines were grafted onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstock, and major replanting was undertaken—with a focus on quantity and high yields. At that time, the Languedoc produced the largest volume of table wine in France, yielding up to 120 hectoliters per hectare. By 1900, the annual production was 21 million hectoliters. This overproduction resulted in plummeting prices, a situation that was compounded by wine frauds involving the illegal manufacture of wine produced from sugar beets, as well as inappropriate chaptalization practices, which ultimately led, in 1907, to revolts by small producers. In 1910, with the fraudulent activities resolved, a new effort to revive Languedoc wine was begun.

In 1938, Blanquette de Limoux was granted appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status and thus became the first AOC established in the Languedoc region—and one of the earliest AOCs in France. In 1945 the Languedoc received major recognition from the National Institute of the Appellations of Origin (INAO) when the organization allowed the region’s wines to be designated Wine of Superior Quality (VDQS) and approved the appearance of that designation on labels. This designation would later evolve into the AOC system. In 1975, Languedoc producers gradually began shifting their focus toward standards that would raise the region’s level of quality. Selection and research into soil makeup, vineyard management, yield control, and winemaking methods led to a restructuring of the Languedoc region and, eventually, the classification of its terroirs into various AOCs, which now guarantee the quality and authenticity of Languedoc wines.

The Appellations

Although the major share of Langeudoc’s production is still made up of IGP wines, today there are 23 AOCs in the region, representing about 16 percent of its total production.

The base of the Languedoc appellation structure lies with the regional Languedoc appellation AOC Languedoc. This regional appellation evolved from the extension of the Coteaux du Languedoc appellation, which was established in 2007. It covers recognizable and accessible geographic origin red, white, and rosé wines, with blending across the terroirs of the AOC Languedoc and Roussillon. Production covers the whole of the Languedoc-Roussillon. These wines are known as enjoyable everyday drinking wines that deliver a strong quality-to-price ratio.

There are 10 Sub-regional Appellations:

There are 5 Commune or Village Appellations:

There are 4 Sweet Wine Appellations:

  • AOC Muscat de Frontignan (white)
  • AOC Muscat de Lunel (white)
  • AOC Muscat de Mireval (white)
  • AOC Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois (white)

There are 3 Sparkling Wine Appellations:

Alongside these, there are also 14 designations or vineyard sites who have filed an application with the INAO for specific recognition:

11 Regional Designations:

    • Languedoc-Cabrières (red, rosé)
    • Languedoc-Grés de Montpellier (red)
    • Languedoc-La Méjanelle (red, rosé)
    • Languedoc-Montpeyroux (red)
    • Languedoc-Pézenas (red)
    • Languedoc-Quatourze (red)
    • Languedoc-Saint-Christol (red, rosé)
    • Languedoc-Saint-Drézéry (red)
    • Languedoc-Saint-Georges-d’Orques (red, rosé)
    • Languedoc-Saint Saturnin (red, rosé)
    • Languedoc-Sommières (red)

3 Sub-regional Designations:

 

In addition to those AOCs, the region also includes 19 IGP Sud de France denominations, named not only for their viticultural aspects but also factors such as history and geography. These are:

Heritage Sites

  • IGP Cité de Carcassonne
  • IGP Coteaux d’Ensérune
  • IGP Coteaux de Béziers
  • IGP Coteaux de Narbonne
  • IGP Coteaux du Pont du Gard
  • IGP Saint Guilhem Le Désert

Nature Preserves and Parks

  • IGP Cévennes
  • IGP Côtes de Thau
  • IGP Haute Vallée de l’Aude
  • IGP Haute Vallée de l’Orb
  • IGP Vallée du Paradis
  • IGP Vallée du Torgan

Historic Connections

  • IGP Coteaux de Peyriac
  • IGP Côtes de Thongue
  • IGP Pays Cathare
  • IGP Vicomté d’Aumelas

3 Departmental IGP Denominations

  • IGP Aude
  • IGP Gard
  • IGP Pays d’Hérault

Key Grape Varieties

Languedoc’s AOC wines are predominantly red blends made with Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. Their flavor profile is dominated by red fruit and spices and is often associated with an herb blend called garrigue, containing rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, and juniper, that is typical of the region. Red wines make up 60 percent of the Languedoc’s total production. Rosé wines represent 19 percent, and white wines, 20 percent. Approximately 93 percent of the wines produced in the region are still wines, while 5 percent are sparklers, and 2 percent are sweet Muscat-based vins doux naturels.

Grenache

This variety has been cultivated in France since the Middle Ages. While typically smooth and delicate, Grenache provides structure to Languedoc blends. It also has an aromatic flavor profile and an exceptional ability to age (provided yields have been controlled). Grenache is often combined with more tannic grapes, such as Syrah and Mourvèdre, in the region’s red blends. It produces round, elegant wines with notes of cherry and plum in youth, and jam, cocoa, and mocha with age. 

Syrah

Wines made with Syrah tend to be robust and high in alcohol and tannins, which makes them good candidates for aging. Syrah gives low-acid, deeply colored, fruity wines with red fruit and strong floral notes, with hints of licorice, ginger, and spice. With age, Syrah develops resin and animal notes.

Carignan

Grown throughout the southern Mediterranean, Carignan is a low-yield variety that produces powerful, intensely colored wines with strong tannins. It helps build the foundation in Languedoc blends, where it’s often combined with other, finer grapes, such as Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Carignan offers red and black fruit notes as well as typical regional notes of garrigue. Peppery, balsamic notes may develop as Carignan ages.

Mourvèdre

This variety’s history in France dates to the Middle Ages. Mourvèdre produces bold, full-bodied, tannic wines that are deep in color and firm in structure. It contributes complexity to Languedoc blends, and its flavor profile features blackberries, blueberries, and black currant, as well as baking spices and herbal garrigue notes.

Cinsault

Known for its supple, juicy, and fruity wines, Cinsault yields wines that tend to be light ruby in color with notes of sour red berries, like strawberries, currants, and cranberries. This grape is also used in the production of the Languedoc’s excellent rosé wines.


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Others

Numerous other varieties can be found in Languedoc, including Bourboulenc (Malvoisie), Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Clairette, Fer Servadou, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Lledoner Pelut, Macabeu, Malbec (Côt), Malvasia (Roussillon Tourbat), Marsanne, Mauzac, Merlot, Muscat, Piquepoul, Rolle (Vermentino), and Roussanne.

What’s Happening in Occitanie Today? 

Occitanie is still the largest wine region in France, representing 30 percent of all French wine produced, and the largest vineyard area in the world with a geographic identity. With its shift to the modern, Languedoc in many ways has become a new frontier for French wine. Not only does it offer a diverse range of wine styles but it delivers exceptional quality at approachable prices. 

Consumers are seeking out Languedoc wines as new “discoveries.” These are innovative wines that combine the best of traditional practices with new winemaking ideas and technology.  The region is also evolving because of the numerous young people and foreigners who are buying up local land and joining the Languedoc winemaking community.

With shifting consumption patterns and increasing international demand, producers are tackling new challenges to support the success of Languedoc wine as a rapidly growing category. This is evident in the increased production of rosé wines as well as the commitment to expanding organic production even further within the region. Languedoc now accounts for 30 percent of total French rosés and 11 percent of the world’s production. Based on figures as of 2019, Languedoc is also home to 36 percent of all French organic vineyards, the largest area in France, and 7 percent of global organic vineyards. It also has the highest percentage of certified organic grape growers in France, with a 10 year plan for 40 percent of all producers to have some form of high value certification, and 60 percent of surfaces committed to the process of sustainable development.

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