Around 1960’s French wines used to outsell all others and set standards for most New World producers like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa Chile, Argentina, Canada, and the U. S. A. Of course, their French colleagues always inspired Ontario winemakers.
It is ironic that France gave New World wine producing countries the grape varieties, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier, syrah, gamay, just to name a few, and now must fight them in world markets for share.
New World wine regions decided to go with varietal products, realizing few wine consumers were interested in the geography, topography and terroir of their wines. Their objective was, and remains, to market fruit-forward, palate pleasing wines, at affordable prices to the young and upcoming generation less concerned about technical data but interested in palatability.
French growers, winemakers and marketers are every bit as astute as wineries elsewhere. They know what sells and how to make appealing wines for any given market segment.
They revisited their vineyards, and where necessary, replanted with popular varieties.
In addition, Languedoc and Roussillon, two huge Mediterranean regions, decided to produce and market varietal wines, in competition with Australian, South African, Chilean and American wines. Anguedoc alone has more vineyard acreage than all of Australia.
Truly, when French wines have a good vintage, hardly any country can surpass their appeal with or without food.
Presently, Languedoc and Roussillon wines are best values for those who enjoy them with food and over a long period.
The fundamental difference between Old World and New World wines is, the former are acid-driven, and the latter fruit-driven. Old World wines open up over time in the glass and taste great with food, whereas New World wines appeal because of their exuberant fruit, slightly sweet flavour, and soft texture.
Cotes du Rhone (Rhone Valley) and Loire also offer exceptional wine at very reasonable cost, but prefer to sell in France and export mostly to the United Kingdom and Germany.
Here are some varietal wines Languedoc and Roussillon are producing that need the attention of the wine-drinking world: chardonnays – these are 100 percent varietal wines from fully ripe grapes planted on appropriate soil and on slopes yielding extraordinary fruit depth, brilliant colour, pleasing aromatics with a good balance and mouth feel. More than anything else, these chardonnays from reputable wineries represent good value.
Sauvignon blanc – the fastest growing white wine in the world sauvignon blanc has undergone a total remake in New Zealand. Here winemakers produce fruity, herbal, but vet pleasing soft wine. Languedoc aims at New World sauvignon blanc style, and produces fruit driven aromatic white wines to please the younger crowds.
Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, the spiritual heartland, of this grape, shine bright when the vintage yields fully ripe grapes. Bordeaux started to produce blends of sauvingon blanc, semillon and muscadelle that are very appealing, fresh, fruity and inviting.
Vigonier – Although at home in the Rhone Valley, viognier grows well in Languedoc. The wines smell of peaches and apricots, are soft and pleasant on the palate.
Cabernet sauvignon – Only three decades ago this venerable grape grew only in few French regions, but not in Languedoc. The Bordelaise decided to buy land in Languedoc and Roussillon and plant cabernets sauvignon. Their objective was to make wine resembling Bordeaux, but at half the cost. Languedoc cabernet sauvignons are brilliant in colour, fruity with soft tannins that allow early consumption. They are made to enjoy within a year or two of harvest.
Merlot- this fruity (plum), soft grape originating in Bordeaux is used there for blending with cabernet sauvignon. In St. Emilion, a sub-appellation of Bordeaux it is blended with cabernet franc and very little cabernet sauvignon. Languedoc’s merlot is fruity, high in alcohol but well extracted to yields a perfectly balanced wine to drink on its own or with appropriate food.
Syrah – at home in the northern Rhone Valley syrah, aka shiraz has been successfully planted in Languedoc and Roussillon.
Here this famous grape yields fruity, dark, alcoholic wines with lots of flavour. The Mediterranean hot climate ripens the fruit fully, and winemakers translate nature’s bounty to fine wines full of flavour.
Rhone syrah wines like hermitage or Croze-Hermitage or Cote Rotie sell for five times the cost of Languedoc syrah.
Pinot noir – indigenous to Burgundy, only few growers thought pinot noir in Languedoc could produce fine wines. Those who ventured inland to high altitudes and planted this venerable grape were greatly surprised by the results.
Languedoc and Roussillon pinot noirs are dark in colour, but possess appealing aromas more like stone fruits than Burgundy’s sweet strawberries. They are high in alcohol, but low in tannins and softer than their Burgundian counterparts.
Languedoc and Roussillon Appellation d’Origine Controllee and Vin de Pays wines deserve their place on the dinner tables of those who like to enjoy fine wines at reasonable cost.
Here are some reputable wineries that produce fine Languedoc and Roussillon wines: (Some have vineyards there and process the fruit in their premises; others truck the fruit to Bordeaux or elsewhere. Some wineries buy fruit form well established growers by long term contacts according to their specifications and vinify in their wineries): Robert Skalli, Jeanjean, Calvet, George Dubeouf, Baron de Rothschild, Barton et Guestier, Yvon Mau, Domain Paul Mas, and Kresmann.