Languedoc, located in the southwestern France adjacent to Spain is the largest and economically very important agricultural region of the country.
The vineyards (300,000 hectares) surpass the total acreage in the USA and easily more than double that of Australia.
Languedoc consists of four sub-regions; Gard west of the Rhone River, Herault stretching from Montpellier to Beziers and north; Aude around the ancient city of Cracassonne, and Pyrenees Orientales which includes Perpignane and Collioure. The region produces more wine (3,750,000 hectoliters), than any other in France, followed by Bordeaux, and ranks third on worldwide exports after Australia and California. Some 80 percent of the production is exported. The biggest export market is the U.K., followed by Germany, the U S A, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Sweden, Japan and Switzerland.
Despite its quantitative importance, the region produces only just 13 percent of France’s Appellation controlled wines; the rest is classified VDQS (Vins delimite de qualite superieur) and vins de pays d’Oc and varietal.
For decades, farmers were preoccupied with quantity and neglected quality, which has harmed the reputation of the region. Today, most producers understand the importance of quality and pay premiums for superior quality fruit in an attempt to encourage traditional growers to switch.
Robert Skalli, a well-known negociant in Sete, has done a lot to improve quality. Domaines (here called Mas) also produce excellent, full-bodied, deeply flavored wines that represent excellent value.
The great majority of Languedoc vineyards are planted on flat, alluvial plains that end up as bulk wines.
Wineries from Bordeaux, Burgundy and elsewhere invested and continue to invest large amounts of capital to establish vineyards on high altitudes with appropriate exposure on slopes to ensure good drainage, and proper ripening.
carignan, grenache, syrah, cinsault, and mourvedre are popular for red wine, although new vineyards are planted to cabernet sauvignon, merlot, even pinot noir.
For white wines, growers prefer rolle, marsanne, aspiran, bourboulenc, clairette, picpoul, macabeo and oeillade, but lately chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, roussanne, and viognier have been successfully planted.
Varietal Languedoc wines if marketed, as appellation controlled must contain 100 percent of the stated variety on the label.
Creative winemakers blend according to markets and sell them as branded products. In many cases blends taste better than varietal wines. Some interesting blends have been cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and merlot, carignan, syrah and mourvedre with a little cabernet sauvignon.
Corbieres, Costieres de Nimes, Fougeres, Fitou, Limoux, Minervois, St. Chinan and Coteaux de Languedoc are entitled to market their wines as appellation controlled.
Blanquette de Limoux is for its famous sweet sparkling wine, and Muscat vins doux naturelles and Muscat de Frontignan enjoy good popularity amongst oenophiles with a sweet tooth.
Coullioure, a fortified red wine, is one of the few wines in the world that complements chocolate. Try it with dark chocolate wafers from Valrhona from Ampuis in Cotes du Rhone, France.
The Aude produces the bulk of French vermouths and fortified branded products lie Dubonnet.
Robert Skalli (now owned and managed by Boisset of Burgundy) , Mas de Gassac Jeanjean are only a few of the local wineries that promote worldwide and export in large quantities. Baron de Rothschild from Bordeaux, Calvet, George Dubeouf, Thorin and others buy grapes or must or wine in bulk to make or blend. Modern Languedoc wines reveal that improvements, particularly in red wines, have been short of miraculous.
Robert Skalli now markets upscale varietal wines (cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot) that represent very good value.
Branded wines like Cygalus and Mythique, Mas de Bressade and Mas de Gassac have been able to blend impressive wines.
For many years this writer has maintained that southern France (Languedoc) is potentially more important for reasonably priced everyday wines, than other regions in France and now reality proves the point.