One of the more overlooked wine growing regions of France, Languedoc-Roussillon — a massive historical territory that spans from the coastal border with Spain to the coastline of Provence in southeastern France — now offers some of the highest-quality red and white wines. An area once known for generic bulk wine production – more than a third of French wine output is here – viticulture in the Languedoc-Roussillon (also known simply as “The Languedoc”) has evolved significantly over the past 30 years. At the same time, winemakers have maintained their historic focus on varietal blending without the strict winemaking rules and with creative freedom not found in Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Languedoc-Roussillon, although usually grouped as a single region, can also be understood as distinct areas. Languedoc, comprised of three of the five départements, is culturally and historically tethered to France. In contrast, Roussillon has historic ties with Catalonia, an autonomous community in Spain’s northeast.
While the majority of Langeudoc’s production is still made up of IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée, a lower quality category of French wine just above table wines) wines, the region contains 23 AOCs (appellation d'origine contrôlée, the main geographical indication for French wines), which together comprise around 16 percent of the region’s total production.
Terroir and Climate of Languedoc-Rouissilon
Languedoc-Roussillon generally has a warm to hot, dry Mediterranean climate, with searing summers and mild temperatures throughout the year. Heat and sun pose a danger to overripening grapes, but the best vineyards remain cooler due to their elevation and the influence of coastal winds from the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
The tumultuous geological history of Languedoc-Roussillon created a vast array of soil types, including pebble terraces, sandstone, calcareous clay, limestone and shale, clay soils, puddingstone, and sandy soils. In particular, many of the regions’ top wines come from the rocky soils of the mountain foothills.
Red Wines of Languedoc-Roussillon
In this region, vineyards are often an assemblage of varieties growing together, leading most producers to focus on red blends instead of single-varietal wines.
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan, and Cinsault, as a result, are usually blended, and all make a comfortable home in the region’s red varietal repertoire. As in the Rhone Valley to the northeast, the ubiquitous garrigue shrub and its corresponding barnyard, earthy tones represent a hallmark of Languedoc-Roussillon red wines. Stylistically, red blends throughout the region can range from bold, concentrated and chewy to light and pretty, depending on the producer and mix of grapes used.
As in Catalonia right across the Spanish border, in Roussillon, all three major types of Grenache are prominently featured as the lynchpin of blended wines: Grenache Noir for reds, and its lighter-skinned variants Gris and Blanc for whites.
In the Banyuls AOC, on the mountainous border with Spain, winemakers use these varietals to produce a well-known type of sweet wine using a process called mutage. The process bears some resemblance to Port production; Alcohol is added to the must to stop fermentation while sugar levels are still high, and then the wines are matured in oak barrels, or outside in glass bottles exposed to the sun, which allows the wine to oxygenate (maderization). The result is a lower-alcohol sweet red wine unique to the area.
White Wines of Languedoc-Roussillion
Without the same stringent regulations on grape varieties found in Burgundy and Bordeaux, a diverse mix of white wine varietals thrive in Languedoc-Roussillon. Chardonnay, Vermentino, Chenin Blanc, and Muscat are some of the better-known and most important white grapes in the region, and are often blended.
Also added to these white blends, the native varietal Picpoul, (from the French phrase ‘stings the lip’) has gathered traction among low-intervention producers in recent years as a zesty, crisp wine-producing single varietal project. Better known in traditional Rhone white winemaking, Languedoc-grown Picpoul has gained popularity for its high-toned acidity, zippy mouthfeel, and incredible food-friendly nature.
Chardonnay, in particular, plays a prominent role in the white wines of Languedoc. It is the primary grape found in wines bearing the Vin de Pays d'Oc appellation, the IGP denomination that roughly follows the contours of the Languedoc-Roussillon. The well-known sparkling champagne-method wine Crémant de Limoux, produced around the village of Limoux and bearing a much cooler climate than the rest of the region, also features extremely old-vine chardonnay.
Cuisine of Languedoc-Roussillon
The diversity of landscapes and areas within Languedoc-Roussillon lends to the mosaic of cuisines. The region is well-recognized for its dynamic local cuisine that utilizes fresh, classic coastal Mediterranean ingredients. In particular, olive oil, garlic, and basil, complemented by herbs like Thyme, Rosemary, and Bay Leaves, are often primary ingredients in the region’s food culture.
Notable dishes include the renowned Thau Basin oysters, codfish brandade (a mixture of salt cod, olive oil, and potatoes) anchovies gratinés with herbs, and tuna à la catalane.