White wines and Languedoc Roussillon: A region full of surprisesLanguedoc Roussillon is a region full of surprises. Located in the south of France, it has so much to offer, between wine, gastronomy and landscapes. The Languedoc Roussillon appellation represents the top-of-the-range wines from the largest vineyard in the world. This region, which tends to be forgotten in the past, is coming back more and more, thanks to its great potential, its vision and its excellent quality/price ratio. The white wines of Languedoc-Roussillon are delicious and will introduce you to grape varieties you have never heard of and will never forget. Many of the winemakers in this region are innovators and believe in their terroirs and small plot vineyards. Forward-thinking winemaking creates refreshing and unique flavors.
Appellation controlled and local wines
Appellation Contrôlée status has gradually been conferred on the historic heart of Languedoc-Roussillon, that is to say on the sites in the foothills of the Massif Central and the Pyrenees where viticulture has existed since the Romans. The appellation status also concerns the taste and the wine produced from a limited selection of mainly Mediterranean grape varieties. The term appellation contrôlée is very gradually being replaced by the protected designation of origin or PDO for short.
Vin de Pays was introduced to improve the quality of what was then the mass of ordinary wines. It gives an identity to wines from regions planted during major periods of expansion, mainly in the plain between Narbonne and Pézenas. It allows for higher yields than AC, and, more importantly, allows a much wider palette of varietals for growers.
The Grape Varieties of Languedoc Roussillon
The native grape varieties of Languedoc and Roussillon are at the heart of all appellation wines. With a changing climate and a tendency towards extreme weather conditions, these heirloom varieties are growing in popularity.
Like Carignan, native whites are more obviously associated with high production but with careful handling intended to produce wines of real interest. There is maccabeu and grenache blanc, grown mainly in Corbières and Roussillon. Clairette, grown mainly in the east, closer to the Rhône. Terret is widely cultivated around Marseillan. Perhaps best of all is the Piquepoul which east of Béziers produces a good dry Picpoul de Pinet. Muscat was grown exclusively for natural sweet wines such as Saint Jean de Minervois and Rivesaltes, but also produces dry wines full of aroma of some interest.
The biggest change in southern France has been the introduction of other grape varieties to improve quality. For whites, Roussanne and Marsanne have also traveled south of the Rhône to bring finesse and flavor to Mediterranean blends. Increasingly, Corsican vermentino, also known as rolle, can be found in blends where it often has a positive influence.
Bordeaux has also long been an important link for Languedoc with the Canal du Midi to prove the link. Unsurprisingly, Languedoc producers were quick to introduce Bordeaux grape varieties to their vineyards. Merlot is the most widely planted and in some years has been very profitably exported in bulk to California or Bordeaux. Cabernets that ripen later are probably better suited to the southern climate and have great potential.
Another revolution in the south of France was the quality of the whites.Before the introduction of new cellar hygiene and refrigeration standards, the concept of a fresh, dry and fruity Languedoc-Roussillon white wine was almost impossible Farmers like Pierre Bésinet at Domaine du Boscand Louis-Marie Teisserenc at Domaine de l'Arjolle quickly spotted the potential and succeeded in planting chardonnay, sauvignon and even the mysterious viognier.
The different regional styles of Languedoc Roussillon
Languedoc-Roussillon is such a vast region that it is impossible to generalize about the whole. It should be divided into three main sections.
The Eastern part
Eastern Languedoc stretches from an ill-defined point by Béziers to Nîmes where an equally ill-defined border separates Languedoc from the Rhone Valley. Unsurprisingly, the style of wine produced here is often similar to that of the Rhône: generous, thick-textured and often high in alcohol.
This region is more dramatic, mountainous and much drier than the east, but it is also colder and the austerity of its climate and topography can be tasted in its wines.
The south includes in particular the south of Corbières, Fitou and Roussillon
These are dry and hot regions surrounded by mountains that offer a majestic backdrop. Traditionally, the most exposed sites near the village of Maury have produced sweet fortified wine. The high mountains offer the possibility of planting vines at higher altitudes and making cooler wines.
The white wines of Languedoc-Roussillon
There are around 30,000 producers in Languedoc-Roussillon and although there are some very large properties, most are smallholders. And most of them deliver their grapes to more than 300 cooperatives which represent around 80% of the production. The job of the cooperative is to protect the interests of the members first and to empty the bridges in time for the new vintage. Quality in itself is not a big concern and historically most customers have never been particularly demanding. So there's still a lot of indifferent wine in co-ops, but a few stand out. These are mostly small, barely larger than a large domain.
Overall, however, many of Languedoc-Roussillon's best products come from a growing group of passionate and often highly individualistic producers. The trading side of the wine trade exists, but on the whole it only serves to provide the smallest denominators for supermarkets and discounters.