Monday, March 9, 2015



Ever hear of it?  Many people in the US have not, which is weird, seeing as though this is the region of France that supplies the largest vineyard surface space in all of France.  It is also the largest grower of vines in the world.  The region is so big, that it contributes nearly 30 percent of the total production of FRANCE. BUT... Historically, the region has not had the best reputation.  Much of France's cheap quaffing wines come from this region.  It is also the reason for the diminishing prices of European wine due to over production. Thus, many have called it the "Wine Lake".

While there is still plenty of bad wine coming from the Languedoc, there are also some incredible innovators coming from the region as well.  Due to more lax wine making laws, producers in the region take the best from French wine tradition, and apply new world wine making techniques to them.  Because of this, most wine from the region are sold under the Vin de Pays d'Oc AOC.

We will start with geography.  Languedoc touches Provence, and in a lot of ways offers the same things that Provence has to offer.  White sand beaches, beautiful ocean, but without the pissy attitude to tourists.  Roussillon is more secluded.  Due to the fact that it is a border town with Spain, many drive through here on their way to Spain.  Additionally, you will see a lot of Spanish influence in the region.

The region basically grows a bit of everything in the grape kingdom.  Two that you might not find in most places include Carignan (Mazuelo, Bovale, Grande, Carinena, Carignane are other names it goes by) Llandoner Pelut  (a "Hairy" mutation of black Grenache.  More to come on grapes as we delve deeper.

Languedoc gets its name from the dialect spoken there.  The root of the word (Langa d'OC) literally translates to the language of yes with oc being how one says yes in Occitan.  There are 15 distinct AOPs in the Languedoc alone.  Roussillon has 7 AOCs.  Most of the vineyard space hugs the Mediterranean sea.

The  Languedoc's best vineyards in the region are clustered on the western side of the region.  Fitou is the oldest appellation dating to 1948.  It is broken into 2 districts, Fatou Maritime, and Fitou Montagneux.  The wines are always red blends, and Carignan based.  the red wines are a minimum of 60 percent(COMBINED) Grenache (Min20%), and Carignan (Min 20%) but may also include syrah and mourvedre (Up to 10% combined)  No grape may account for over 80% of the blend and Grenache and or Carignan MUST be at least 50% of the total blend.  

Fitou is embedded within Corbieres AOP which produces reds, roses and a small amount of white wine.  Corbieres has variable soil types including red sandstone, stony, grey clay, schists, and coarl limestone.  it is a Mediterranean climate that is dry and windy.  The majority of production from the region is red (95%) and 3.5% rose.  Carignan is the major grape here, and may account for up to 50% of the wine.  syrah, granache Noir, Mourvedre, lledoner Pelut and Cinsault may be included up to 20% for reds and up to 70% for rose wines.  There are also a small amount of whites produced from Bourboulenc, white Grenache, Maccabeu, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussanne, Rolle (Vermintino, Terret blanc, Picquepoul, and Muscat (Maximum 10%).

Corbieres-Boutenac produces red wine from Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre.  there are only 18 producers here.  

Minervois produces mostly reds  (94%) with 2% white, and the remaining rose.  Grapes used here are Carignan (Up to 40%), Grenache, Lledoner Pelut, Mourvedre, and Syrah.  White may be made of Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Maccabeu, Bourboulenc, Rolle, Clairette, and muscat.  There is also a sweet (VDN) wine mad here from Muscat called Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois.  

At the Heart of Minervois is a sophisticated area called Minervois la Liviniere.  The soils here are made of limestone.  There is also wind to cool the grapes at night, and significant water shortages in the summer.  Thus the vines suffer... and thus make good grapes.  The wines from Minervois la Liviniere must be bottled at the source, and thus, there are NO NEGOCIANTS here.  Wines are made from 60% Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache (40 percent minimum of syrah or mourvedre) and may contain Carignan, Cinsault, Terret, Piquepoul and Aspiran (Not to be confused with the Aspirin I will need because of all of the grape types grown in the region)  Finally, these wines are tasted for quality before being called Minervois la Liviniere.

Cabardes is another red producing land with 90% of its vineyards devoted to the red grape.  The soil here is chalky clay, limestone and rocky terroir.  The wind here is overpowering the air dry, and the Mediterranean climate keeps things warm.   Growers grow both Mediterranean and Atlantic varietals.  The growers must grow 50/50 between the two, and must blend the wines.  Interestingly, there is not mins or maximums on the blend however.  One could mix 99 percent Syrah with 1% Cabernet if so desired.

The Cotes de Malepere are similar in style and geographically close to Cabardes (Directly North).  These are made from a bunch (hahaha) of different grapes from traditional Mediterranean to Bordeaux varieties.  Cab, Malbec, Grenache, Syrah and Cinsaut.  The terrain is hills or Cotes, made of Calcareaous material and gravel hill tops.  This is a transitional climate with both Oceanic and Med elements.

Saint-Chinian AOP has historically been a red and Rose world, but have recently added whites to its toolbox.  the same suspects apply with Min 30% Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne and vermentino.  Also alloud but with a max of 10% combined are clairette, Carignan Blanc and Viognier.  Depending on the age of the vines, they may also allow Macabeu (If planted before 1998) and Bourboulenc (If before 2005)  The Rose and red wines are from Grenache, Lladoner Pelut (Min 20 percent combined) Mourvedre, and Syrah (Min 20% combined)  Also included at times are Carignan and Cinsault.

There are two sub-regions called Berlou and Roquebrun with slightly different blend rules,  Berlou must have 60% combined Grenache (20% min), Syrah (20% min, and Mourvedre.  It must also have Carignan at up to 25%.  Roquebrun must have a min of 25% Syrah and 20% Granache (70% combined syrah, Granache, and Mourvedre)  It may also have carignan at up to 30%.

Fageres has mountainous influences in its landscape.  wines here are made from Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre and syrah for both reds and rose wines.  Whites are made with Rousanne, white Grenache, Marsanne and Vermention.  These are soft wines with integrated rounded tannins.

So as you can see, there are a lot of rules, and even more grapes.  It is a place to experiment in France... In fact, one of the few.  That is why there is sooooo much excitement suddenly coming from the area.  If yoiu think we are done with our journey, we are not.  On do Limoux.

Limoux makes 4 varieties of wine;  a cremant, white, rouge and a Blanquette (Sparkling in the ancestral method made from Mauzac grapes.The two sparkling wines from the region (Blanquette and Cremant) go to assemblage after the still wines are made.  After nine months, existing lees are eliminated and an expedition is added.  the Cremant is stored for at least 12 months and sold 15 months after it is bottled.  Blanqette undergoes natural fementation and has less then 7% alcohol.

Clairette du Languedoc hugs the herault river on cliffs or terraces.  The grape grown here is easy to remember because it is called Clairette. This is a rare single varietal wine from the region.  It is a white, and it has been here since the Roman times.  It can either be drunk dry or semi-sweet.

Languedoc Regional AOC has made wines that were uninspired for years.  In recent years, the focus has been on improving quality.  There are several sub-zones including Gres de Montpellier (St Christol, St Drezery, st Georges d' Orques and La Mejanelle), Penzenas, La Clape, Pic St. Loup, Cabrieres, Terasses du Larzac, Quatourze, Montpeyroux, st. Saturnin, and Sommieres.  Hold on to your hat, we will go through these quickly.

Languedoc AOP makes white and red wines as well as rose.  Whites are made up of Granache blanc, Clarette blanc, Bourboulenc, Piquepoul, Marsanne, Roussane, Vermentio and Tourbat.  These have to be a blend of two or more of the grapes listed above.  Secondary grapes may be included as well.  These include Terret, Carignan, Ugni, Macabeu, Viognier.  Seconday blending grapes cannot be more then 30% and viognier cannot be less then 10%.the wines should be a minimum of 11.5% ABV.  Reds and Rose wines can be made from Grenache, Lladnoer Pelut, Syrah, Mourvedre(At least 50%), and Carignan can be no more then 40%.  Minimum of 20% Frenache and Lladdoner Pelut.  Secondary grapes may not exceed 10%  These include Counoise, Grenache rose, Piquepoul and Terret.

Picpoul only grows one grape (Picpoul de Pinet).  It is made for fish with its floral, citrus and acid.  The bottle is COOL and has Neptune with the Languedoc Cross.

Pic Saint Loup AOP has Mourvedre based wines showing color, spicy and meaty complexity with a hint of earth.  They are more elegant than the rest from the Languedoc plains.  This is due to swings in temperatue from day to night.  A great part of this region is a birthday celebration for me.  On the first Sunday after March 19th (My bday), anyone climbing the Pic Saint Loup gets a glass of wine at the summit.

La Clape mountains are known as the mountains of lakes because they used to be under a lake.  This region is known for its whites made from 60% Bourboulenc.  it also makes reds and rose but they are less interesting.

Finally, BREATHE, there are a series of Muscat producing small fortified wine appellations called the Languedoc Muscats collectively.  These include Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois AOP, Muscat de Mireval AOP, Muscat de Lunel AOPand Muscat de Frontignan AOP.  These can be either VDN or Vin de Liquer (Natural or with fortification added).

Roussillon is next.  Roussillon AOPs is made up of several sub AOPs.  These include Banyuls Grand Cru (VDN red, Banyuls (VDN red and white), Collioure (Red, white, rose), Cotes du Roussillon (Red, white), Maury (VDN white, VDN red, dry red), Muscat de Rivesaltes (VDN white) and finally Rivesaltes (VDN white and VDN red).

Collioure makes whites from Grenache blanc, gris, and secondarily  from tourbat, Maccabeu, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Vermentino.  Reds and Roses can be made from Grenache Noir, and secondarily from Syrah, Mourvedre, (Carignan, and Cinsault for reds,) and (Granache Gris for rose).

Cotes du Roussillon make 60% roses, and 38 percent red.  Grenaches noir and blanc, Carignan noir, Llandoner Pelut, Cinsault, Macabeu, Malvoisie du Roussillon.  New grapes are also added like Syrah, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Vermentino.

Cote du Roussillon Villages AOP makes Carignan noir, Granache noir, Lladoner Pelut, Syrah, and Mourvedre.  there are 32 villages and typically the village is included on the label.

Cotes du Roussillon les Aspres must be in oak for 12 months and are made with a higher degree of Syrah and Mourvedre.

Sweet wines as mentioned above are made through much of the region.The Ambre and Touile styles are aged in an oxidative environment until March 1 of the 3rd year following the harvest.  Grenat wines are aged reductively for one year and must be bottled before juen 30 of the following year.  These wines are at times aged in the sun in a glass jar (HUMPH).  Rivesaltes hors d'age AOP wines are aged for a minimum of 5 years and at times up to 20.

The last sweet wine region to discuss is Banyuls Grand Cru AOP.  These must be made with 75% Grenache Noir and have been aged for a minimum of 30 Months.

Maury AOP may be aged up to 20 years, but the Cendanges ou Recoltes bottled early to preserve freshness.

Whew.  Lots of wines made here...  Thanks for coming with me. 

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