The Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France produces the most diverse range of wines in the whole of France. We have put together for you a little guide to the styles of wines you will find here.
Until 2009 France labelled its appellation wines as AOC which meant the wines were controlled but now they are labelled AOP, the ‘P’ standing for protected. In Languedoc-Roussillon these wines are nearly always a blend of grape varieties with three white wine exceptions (Muscat, Picpoul du Pinet and Clairette du Languedoc) and all red wines will be a blend of grapes. The appellation is written on the label and will be sandwiched between the words Appellation and Protégée. So for instance if you are buying a Minervois wine the label will state Appellation Minervois Protégée. This guarantees the origin of the wine and tells you the terroir where it grew – Minervois in this case. The reds will be a blend of Carignan, Syrah (Shiraz), Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault and the whites can be a blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Rousanne and Maccabeo but you will also come across many others.
Vin du Pays
The VdP category allows wine makers to experiment and use local grape varieties as well as varieties that were not traditionally grown in this area. Because of the flexible rules the Vins du Pays designation, which these days is known as IGP has attracted many new wine makers to Languedoc, some from Australia and New Zealand resulting in the region being dubbed the New World of France. Under this designation you will find the familiar International Grape Varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as well as some ancient varieties that have been saved because of IGP such as Terret and Carignan Blanc and Gris and just like AOP wines they will vary in quality and price.
In general the red AOP wines tend to be full bodied, spicy and sometimes a little peppery with flavours of black fruits such as plums, blackberries and cherries. They can sometimes have a herbyness described as ‘garrigue’. Some are smooth and elegant with a delightful freshness on the finish and some are more rustic.
Somehow a glass of rosé doesn’t taste good unless the sun is shining. I only ever drink it in the summer months when it’s my tipple of choice at lunch time or at the end of the day as an apéro before dinner. I prefer my rosé to be bone dry and fruity with refreshing acidity. I don’t want it complex, just chilled and delicious and Languedoc rosé hardly ever lets me down.
There is not a typical style of Languedoc white wine. You will find everything from rich, full bodied, oak fermented wines, to mineral, deeply complex and lean to simple fruity styles. There are some famous whites such as La Clape where the ancient grape variety Bourboulenc comes into its own and Limoux Blanc which must be barrel fermented. The main thing the wine maker needs to do when making white wine is strive to retain enough acidity to refresh you. At the same time he must pick when there is enough maturity to give you good fruit flavour. How do you know which style you are buying? My advice is go tasting…!
If sparkling wine is your tipple of choice then head for Limoux in the Aude region as this is the place where it all began back in the 16th century. You will find simple apple flavoured fizz called Blanquette du Limoux, rich complex Champagne styles called Crémant du Limoux and a delicious sweet and fruity style similar to a very good cider called Blanquette Ancestral.
There are a great many ways to make sweet wine but only one of them is allowed for AOP wines in Languedoc-Roussillon and that is by fortification and is called Vin Doux Naturels. Fortifying means to add grape spirit (like brandy) to the wine either before or after fermentation. If this is done in the early stages of fermentation the yeast will be knocked out preventing them from eating any more of the sugar. The resulting wine will be sweet but also alcoholic because of the addition of the brandy. The most well-known wines made this way in Languedoc-Roussillon are the sweet Muscat’s but there are also some red’s made in the Roussillon region using mainly Grenache such Banyuls, Rivesaltes and Maury.