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White wines from Languedoc-Roussillon

White wines and Languedoc-Roussillon: A region full of surprises

Languedoc-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 high-end wines from the largest vineyard in the world. This region, which tends to be forgotten in the past, is coming back more and more, both 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 that you have never heard of and that you will never forget. Many winemakers in this region are innovators and believe in their terroirs and small plot vineyards. Avant-garde winemaking creates refreshing and unique flavors.

Appellation contrôlée and local wines

The status of Appellation Contrôlée was gradually 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 made from a limited selection of mainly Mediterranean grape varieties. The term controlled designation is very gradually being replaced by the protected designation of origin or AOP 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 plains between Narbonne and Pézenas. It allows higher yields than AC, and, more importantly, allows a much wider palette of grape varieties for producers.

Languedoc-Roussillon grape varieties

The native grape varieties of Languedoc and Roussillon are at the heart of all appellation wines. With a changing climate and a tendency for extreme weather, 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 Piquepoul which to the 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 aromatic dry wines of some interest.

The biggest change in the south of France was 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, otherwise known as rolle, can be found in blends in which it often has a positive influence.

Bordeaux has 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 into their vineyards. Merlot is the most widely planted and in some years it has been very profitably exported in bulk to California or Bordeaux. Cabernets that ripen later are probably more 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. Growers like Pierre Bésinet at Domaine du Boscand Louis-Marie Teisserenc at Domaine de l'Arjolle quickly spotted the potential and managed to plant 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 East

Eastern Languedoc extends from a point poorly defined by Béziers to Nîmes where an equally poorly defined border separates Languedoc from the Rhône valley. Unsurprisingly, the style of wine produced here is often similar to that of the Rhône: generous, thick-textured and often high in alcohol.

The West

This region is more spectacular, 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

The south includes in particular the south of Corbières, Fitou and Roussillon

These are dry and hot regions surrounded by mountains which offer a majestic setting.Traditionally, the most exposed sites near the village of Maury have produced sweet fortified wine. The high mountains offer the opportunity to plant vines at higher altitudes and make fresher wines.

White wines of Languedoc-Roussillon

There are around 30,000 producers in Languedoc-Roussillon and although there are some very large properties, most are small farmers. And most of them deliver their grapes to more than 300 cooperatives which represent approximately 80% of production. The cooperative's job is to protect the members' interest first and clear the decks 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 is still a lot of indifferent wine in the cooperatives, but a few stand out. These are mostly small, barely larger than a large estate.

Overall, however, most 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 overall it only serves to provide the lowest denominators for supermarkets and discounters.