France has a whole heap of world famous wine regions. Bordeaux, Alsace, the Rhône Valley and the Loire Valley are just a few examples of this. However, Languedoc-Roussillon Wine can easily be overlooked, despite it being the largest wine producing region by area.
Historically, it has been home to vast amounts of average table wine. Indeed, it still produces a lot of this style of wine. High yields from the favourable hot Mediterranean climate mean that winemakers can create a great deal of wine. High yields tend to go hand in hand with unremarkable wines.
Another factor is that the rules and regulations for the greater Languedoc-Roussillon wine area are far less stringent than other parts of France. This means winemakers don’t have to adhere to rules ensuring that wines meet certain ageing requirements, alcohol content and other factors.
Yet, this very factor is also part of the reason why Languedoc-Roussillon wine has begun to thrive. Winemakers aren’t constrained. They can create new and exciting Languedoc-Roussillon wines which defy convention. These Languedoc-Roussillon wines often represent a delicious level of bang for your buck.
The take-away point is that you should no longer overlook Languedoc-Roussillon wine. Look for the producers making the most of these fertile grounds. You’re sure to introduce yourself to new regions and wines which won’t break the bank like Bordeaux.
In this article, we’ll take you through the climate of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, the main grape varieties and the key wine producing Languedoc-Roussillon wine regions, as well as some of the producers we think provide some great examples of Languedoc-Roussillon wine.
The Climate of the Languedoc-Roussillon Wine Region
In many respects, the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region provides the optimal growing conditions for winemakers. It is categorised as a warm Mediterranean climate and temperatures can reach over 30 degrees regularly in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region.
There are also low differences between the temperatures in winter and summer. No wonder people flock to the south of France for a bit of sun!
Mediterranean climates also generally have low levels of rainfall. This is particularly of note in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region where in particularly dry years drought can become an issue. Curiously, so can summer floods.
You shouldn’t think of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region as one hot homogenous zone. Part of what makes the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region so interesting is that it is so large. Their vineyard areas vary greatly in location, climate, terroir and the grape varieties that are planted there.
Altitude is one key point of difference. Vines planted inland on the foothills of mountains are cooler and less fertile than the coastal areas. It’s always worth remembering that being less fertile isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In regions like Beaujolais the best wines come from granite soils which have low levels of nutrients. This limits the yield and helps create more structured and concentrated Beaujolais wines, compared to the high-yield relatives.
Winds can also be a factor which winemakers have to navigate. There are two notable winds. One is the famous ‘Mistral’ – which rips down from the Alps and goes through the Rhône Valley and out to the Languedoc wine region.
The other is known as the ‘Tramontane’. This enters to the west of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, flowing through the gaps between the Pyrenees and Massif Central mountain ranges.
To summarise, the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region has its issues. Drought, floods and winds can all cause damage to vines. However, on the whole, it is a fantastic area for viticulture and the vines do generally receive everything they need to thrive.
The Grape varieties of the Languedoc-Roussillon Wine Region
In many ways, the Languedoc-Roussillon grape varieties aren’t anything new. They utilise grapes grown throughout France, especially those from the Rhône Valley. However, they produce expressions of these grape varieties that are often unique and different in style. Expect some familiar faces here, but don’t expect a heap of familiar tastes.
The Black Grape Varieties of Languedoc-Roussillon
The black grapes which rule the roost in Languedoc-Roussillon are the same that are key to the Southern Rhône. The proximity of these two wine-making regions to one another should make this fact no surprise.
Grenache is generally utilised in the warmer, dryer sites such as those on the coast. Syrah, on the other hand, is better suited to the cooler sites on the mountain sides. This helps to retain the lean, peppery style of Syrah.
Carignan can also be found throughout the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. Although its use is somewhat controversial. Historically, it was popular due to its ability to produce high-yields. This way of growing Carignan is falling out of favour and will likely continue to do so.
Carignan wines have a tendency to be high in tannin, acidity and colour, while lacking a certain finesse. Yet, the old Carignan vines of Languedoc-Roussillon on low nutrient soil have built a reputation of producing high quality wines.
There are smaller plantings of other grapes. Cinsault is frequently used in the production of rosé, (which Languedoc-Roussillon is known for). Then, Mourvèdre can add colour, complexity and a richness to blends, but it requires the hottest sites to be able to ripen properly.
Finally, the ever-present Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot often make appearances. These can be as single-varietal wines, but are also frequently blended in many of the high volume and value IGP, (Indication Géographique Protégée), wines in the area. We’ll look at IGP wines in greater detail later.
The White Grape Varieties of Languedoc-Roussillon
While the classic international varieties aren’t the focus for the black grape varieties, they’re beginning to steal the show for the white varieties. Traditionally, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc weren’t planted but now they’re the two most widely planted white varieties in the whole of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region.
Viognier also has a significant role to play. Again, this is a grape that has found a huge amount of success in the Rhône Valley, (especially Condrieu in the Northern Rhône). So, the appearance of this grape here isn’t surprising. Neither is the appearance of Grenache Blanc, which is often blended with other Rhône Varieties, (Marsanne and Roussanne).
Muscat is another key grape variety for sweet dessert wines, but you can find dry whites which display a defined grape-like character.
Local varieties are also of great importance to the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. Picpoul is grown in Pinet. This is perhaps the most well known of the local Languedoc-Roussillon varieties. Picpoul de Pinet has seen a burst in popularity recently and has people clamouring for its freshness and lip-stinging acidity.
Then we have Mauzac in Limoux, where it is often blended with Chardonnay. Also, Maccabeu in Roussillon and finally, Rolle in Provence which is used in the production of the world famous Provence rosé wines.
The Languedoc-Roussillon Wine Region
Now, we get to break down the mammoth Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, to make it a bit more manageable. It is pretty big after all. Broadly speaking, the Languedoc half is made up of three ‘departments’, they are Aude, Hérault and Gard. Whereas, the vineyards of the Pyrénées-Orientales are known as Roussillon.
A further divide that needs clarifying is the difference between Appellation and IGP wines. Appellations wines will come from specific regions, such as Picpoul de Pinet. They’ll have slightly more stringent regulations on what goes into the wine. IGP wines are much more laissez-faire. Winemakers are left to experiment. Nowhere in France produces more IGP wines than Languedoc-Roussillon.
You’ll see these under the regional name of ‘Pays d’OC‘. These are the back-bone of a lot of the French wine industry. Favourable climates and limited regulations mean that winemakers can produce a lot of affordable fruit-forward wines, which often represent excellent value for money. If you see something with Pays d’Oc don’t be afraid to check it out! It could be a real hidden gem.
Languedoc-Roussillon Wine Appellations
As we mentioned, there are a number of smaller appellations within the Languedoc-Roussillon wine area. Languedoc itself is a generic appellation which covers areas from Nîmes in the North, down to the Spanish border in the South. The best sub-regions will then add their names to the Languedoc region, (Pic-Saint-Loup is an example of this). Beyond that individual appellations will emerge within this. They’ll have established themselves as having a reputation for specific varieties and styles and have built a reputation that garners the establishment of their own region. The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region is an ever evolving landscape and the appellations within it are always changing and adapting.
Generally, most Languedoc-Roussillon wine appellations will permit the production of red, white and rosé. Though, it’s hard to pin down a specific style. Blends, climate and winemakers preferences all vary greatly. This is why more specific appellations exist – to give a consistency to style. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Minervois lies on the slopes of the Massif Central. The vineyards vary greatly in altitude and due to the richness of the soil, plus the exposure to the cooling influences you can get great wines with a real structure and finesse. Minervois La Livinière has popped up as an appellation within Minervois.
Expect to find blended red wines from all of the black grape varieties mentioned previously, as well as white wines from the classic Rhône varieties. One extra special thing to look for is the sweet wine, Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois.
Next up in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine appellations is Limoux. It sits in the Pyrenean foothills in the eastern portion of the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. The mountains help provide a cooling influence and lock in freshness.
Be sure to keep an eye out for premium oaked Chardonnay, Mauzac and Crémant de Limoux.
Picpoul de PInet
We’ve mentioned Picpoul already. It may be small, only 3000 acres out of 740,300 acres in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. However, the wines are stunning.
Deeply acidic and particularly light. Refreshing, saline and delicious. Be sure to check out our full article on this up and coming region. We’ve got a full background of the region, including tasting notes and some top food pairings. Read more here.
Last, but by no means least – Provence. For many, this is the benchmark for rosé. However, the landscape is greatly varied and broken up by a range of hills and aspects. These can help protect from the mistral and tramontane winds. It also promotes points of difference in the style of rosé wines across the region.
We recommend keeping an eye out for Côtes de Provence, the largest appellation in Provence. Yet, if you’re looking for something different, seek out ‘Bandol‘. Here, you’ll find high-end reds from Mourvèdre. They’re dark, full-bodied and powerfully tannic. Definitely let them age in the bottle to experience them in all their glory.
Languedoc-Roussillon Wine – Producers in Focus
Next on our tour of Languedoc-Roussillon wine are some of our favourite producers. They represent the bold and brilliant winemakers who are taking chances and producing wines which are putting the excellent Languedoc-Roussillon wine region on the map.
If you stick we these, you’ll end up with some delicious wine.
Château de Gaure
Château de Gaure is settled on the site of an ancient Roman villa which dates back to the 1st century. It’s currently ran by Pierre Fabre, a fifth generation winemaker, (and a painter to boot), who converted to organic and biodynamic farming. Expect bold, buttery Chardonnay and classic French reds, (even some old vine Carignan).
The vineyards span 20 hectares, over two unique terroirs. One is the slopes of Pech de Loup which are set in clay and limestone soil at 200m altitude. Then, the Pradou Plateau, 300m above sea level with even richer clay-limestone soil. These factors ensure you’ll experience freshness, finesse and minerality.
Calmel & Joseph
Calmel & Joseph was started by Laurent Calmel and Jerome Joseph. They are the Calmel & Joseph Leaders, who are searching out the best of Languedoc.
Calmel & Joseph was founded in 1995 but they are helping to produce stunning wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region as if their blood was made of claret. We’ll introduce you to these fascinating supporters of independent winemakers and the area in the south of France that they call home.
They describe Languedoc-Roussillon as a ‘viticultural el dorado’. A Kingdom of gold where all things are possible. This is the attitude that they take to their wines.
New and exciting takes on classic French styles of wine. Blending wines from different portions of this vast and expansive region. Hunting down the sharpest winemakers in the south to come and harness the expertly chosen land.
Then, they look to work in as natural a way as possible, with organic status being achieved on numerous lines of their wine. You don’t want to spoil el dorado after all.
Calmel & Joseph have set up shop in a number of locations. However, this site selection is not random. They seek freshness and finesse in their wines so they select vineyards which represent the best chance of obtaining this in the hot Mediterranean weather.
Whether you’re after old vine Carignan or anything from Picpoul Noir to Crémant de Limoux, with even some delicious olive oil and honey – Calmel & Joseph do it all. What’s better is that they do it all well! Start discovering this fantastic organisation today.
There you have it, that’s our guide to the Languedoc-Roussillon wine world. We hope we’ve inspired you to start searching out for the next hidden gem of the south of France. There’s a near endless supply of delicious wine to try out there and the Languedoc-Roussillon wine area is certainly home to a sizeable chunk of it.
If you’re simply after something French, then we’ve got you covered. You can browse the whole French section of the Savage Vines cellars by clicking here.
Maybe you aren’t done reading about French wine and this guide to the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region has simply wet the whistle. Then, we’ve got you covered there to.
We’ve created full reviews for a number of the biggest and best French wines regions. If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of the wine of our neighbours to the south, then all of these guides will leave you in good stead.
You can find full guides to each of the following wine regions here:
You can also read all of our blog posts here.
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