Pick up any wine book, and flip to the page on the Southern Languedoc region of France. More often than not, the term “wine lake” or “ocean of vines” will be used, usually within the first set of paragraphs.
No-doubt, the Languedoc certainly has some marketing challenges on its hands!
With wine history in the region dating back to Roman times, the Languedoc has had plenty of time to practice the art of winemaking. However, with juice being pumped out from over 700,000 acres (over 1090 sq. miles) and therefore making it the world’s largest wine region, quality undoubtedly can sometimes go by the wayside.
Growers in a combination of laziness and greed, all too frequently have a tendency to squeeze as many vines into an acre as possible; milking all the nutrients out of the earth, and resulting in wines which are thin and watery. Thankfully a new generation with a focus on quality has started taking over the reins of Languedoc vineyards, but of course the image of the “wine lake” will be hard to overcome. Nonetheless, the one ace card the “Sud” still has up its sleeve is the autonomy to plant what it wants, where it wants; a claim that regions such as Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundy cannot make.
In the Languedoc, Rhone varietals of Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah are its bread and butter, with Bordeaux grapes of Cabernet and Merlot grapes slowly taking hold.
The majority of bottles coming out of the South of France are labeled with a simple Vin de Pay d’Oc classification, i.e. county wine from the Languedoc. These wines typically represent some of the greatest values in Europe (if you choose wisely). However, if you want true individualism, and to be shown what the Sud really has to offer, it’s worth seeking out the AOC’s. These areas, although having to adhere to much stricter guidelines, can rival even the most talked about regions of France, and at often less than half the price.
Situated around the village of Minerve, the wines from Minervois are some of the best Languedoc has to offer. Reds dominate with Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, although the latter has been limited to make up no more than 40% of blends. Some well-polished whites also have started appearing from Marsanne and Roussanne grapes.
Upgraded from VDQS status in 1998, and located directly adjacent to Minervois, Cabardes concentrates on red made from Bordeaux and Rhone varieties of Cabernet and Merlot, Grenache and Syrah. Roses make up about 10% of wine production.
As it’s one of the largest appellations in all of France, the Corbieres region has been divided into 11 “unofficial” zones, in a move to differentiate its many wines.
Carignan makes up around half of the plantings, and is often usually blended with Cinsault, Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah. The step by some producers towards oak aging indicates a marked step toward quality.
The region of St. Chinian is nestled between Minervois and Faugeres, and has a viticultural history that dates back to the 9th century. The usual suspects of Carignan, Syrah, and Grenache shine through, with wines that are typically fuller in body and spicier than other Languedoc wines, although typically lighter than those from Faugeres.
To the North-East of St Chinian lies Faugeres. These challenging vineyards are home to Carignan, Mourvedre and Cinsault vines, and are reputably some of the strongest coming out of the Languedoc. Also look out for barrel-aged Syrah, which although sometimes a little more expensive, can be comparable to a well-made Rhone red. White AOC Faugeres also started appearing since 2004.