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The French Languedoc-Roussillon wine region

WoW
The Roman Aqueduct at Gard is in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region. Photos by Wayne Crawford

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

  waynecrawford
  Wayne Crawford

The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region is the largest in France, with 740,300 acres under vine. It extends from the border with Spain along the Mediterranean coast to the ancient city of Marseille, which was founded by the Greeks and is now in the Provence wine region.

This area has much to offer the wine aficionado. Last summer, I was fortunate to spend a few days near Narbonne, close to the region’s center where the Romans began planting vines in 125-118 B.C. Having visited the ancient Roman aqueduct road and bridge at Pont du Gard in the northeastern corner of Languedoc, I was more than impressed—considering the challenges to winegrowing presented by the terrain, climate and soil—with the diversity of the landscape and quality wine now offered.

The region has mild winters and hot, dry summers. The alluvial soils produce fruity wines, while the more rocky soil produces spicy, red wines better able to age. Majorca and Aragon ruled Roussillon, which is adjacent to Spanish Catalonia, from the 13th-18th centuries. It is dominated by rugged topography and extremely mountainous terrain, providing a heritage based on traditional Spanish winemaking—full-bodied, spicy, earthy reds and slightly oxidized whites.

I think of this region, along the Mediterranean French coast, as a crossroads for winemaking, with its ancient links to the Spanish grapes grenache, mourvedre, Maccabeau and Carignan; the Rhone Valley grape syrah; and, locally, Cinsault. Red grapes and white grapes—grenache blanc, grenache gris, Bourboulenc and Marsanne—also are grown here, along with more recent, traditional French grapes, such as merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. A host of white grapes, notably chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and Viognier have been added to the mix to appeal to a growing international market.

  WoW
  Members of the Big Canoe Wine Group prepare for a blind-tasting.

Languedoc wines are in three categories: regional Appellation d’Origine Controllee (AOC), The Vin de Pays and The Vin de Table. In 2007, Languedoc and Roussillon were united into one regional AOC, following the administrative linkage in 1972. Within this Languedoc AOC are four terroir-driven AOCs, which are considered the cru vineyards: Menervois La Liviniere, Corbieres Boutenax, Saint Chinian Roquebrun and Saint Chinian Berlou.

Within Roussillon are AOCs Rivesaltes, Banyuls and Maury. Banyuls is a Grand Cru and is famous for its sweet wines. AOC law mandates longer-aging, smaller yields to force improved quality and help reduce the large surplus of wine available in Europe.

Notably, it is now generally accepted that the monks of St. Hilaire, within the region, discovered sparkling wines in 1531, while crafting Blanquette de Limoux, 150 years before Dom Perignon in Champagne. Today, Limoux is the center for the production of Cremant de Limoux, producing a sparkling wine composed of 70 percent Mauzac, a white grape that produces high- acid wines with apple flavors, and a 30 percent blend of chardonnay and chenin blanc in the Methode Traditional similar to Champagne, but in Languedoc.

Languedoc-Roussillon produces 2 billion bottles of wine annually: 75 percent red, 13 percent rose and 12 percent white, using 200 different grape varieties. Today, there is an increased focus on quality and lower yields; this region produces the most organic wine in all of France. Increasingly, this is a wine style for everyone, with varietal labeling on bottles that make it easier for English speakers to understand the grapes within the wine.

However, only a small percentage of wine produced in this region is imported into the United States. The Big Canoe Wine Group’s blind-tasting for this article reinforced the enhanced quality and showcased many best buys.

Given the wide diversity in both red and white wines and a cross section of sparkling and sweet wines, there is any number of food-pairing opportunities. Pair the reds with roasted or grilled meats accompanied by herbs, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil and olives. Since the region is influenced by both Spanish Catalan and French Provencal, the whites and many of the medium-bodied reds will complement Mediterranean fish, fruit and nut offerings.

Our host for the wine tasting was Ed O’Donnell, who applied his considerable chef skills to prepare a traditional Languedoc cassoulet bean-and-meat dish as the centerpiece for our tasting. This dish was clearly a labor of love, and all the wines paired exceptionally well with the white beans, meats and sausage in the dish.

‘Wines drinking well now’
Chateau Landure Fregouse 2008 Minervois, Languedoc, $23: Dark-red color with deep saturation, this wine offers a brilliant appearance. Aromas are dark berry and spice with flavors of black cherry, blackberry, anise and pepper on the palate. Ripe fruit and moderate tannins contribute to a smooth mouthfeel and woody oak flavors. Look for a full body with a lingering finish. Best Buy and first choice of the Big Canoe Wine Group at its blind-tasting.

Chateau La Rogue 2010 Pic Saint Loup, AOC Du Languedoc Controllee, $19: At 65 percent grenache, 25 percent syrah, 10 percent mourvedre, this wine is a deep-garnet with deep color saturation. Aromas are of red berries, black cherry, spice and floral. Black cherry is the dominant fruit on the palate. Best Buy.  

Gerard Bertrand Corbières GSM Blend 2011 Red Blend Wine, $16: Dark-ruby with purple tints and deep color saturation, this wine offers black and red berry fruit with spice and woody aromas. On the palate, it exhibits smooth tannins with blackberry, black cherry, anise and vanilla. It is well blended to support the grenache, syrah and mourvedre blend. Full-bodied with a long finish, it is well crafted by the winemaker. Best Buy.

Gerard Bertrand 2011 Syrah-Carignan (Minervois) Languedoc-Roussillon, $19: Dark-red colors with deep saturation, this wine’s aromas are of black fruit, dried fruit and olives. On the palate, look for black currant, blackberry and prune, with a full body and long finish. Best Buy.

‘Drink what you like’

In my next article, the focus will be on red zinfandel and exceptional wine in America.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and French Wine Society.

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