If you only want wines from one area in your cellar, and you choose Languedoc, you will never suffer boredom or a dry throat. The wines here are of incomparable power, exquisite elegance, superb minerality and freshness. There are reds, whites, rosés, dry, sweet and sparkling wines. There's nothing that doesn't exist here, and if there ever is, it will be created tomorrow.
Languedoc – diversity of styles
A wine area pampered by the gods, the Languedoc is exposed to sun and winds by its ideal location in the south of France, between mountains and the sea. The immense range of orientations and soil structures facilitates a variety of styles.
The most important grape varieties
The Burgundians have it easy. There are two grapes: Pinot noir for reds, Chardonnay for whites. In the Languedoc there are dozens of them. Varietal diversity is everything. For the consumer who just wants to put a Merlot on the table, it's a headache. For the winemaker it allows a wide range of styles in the finest nuances.
This important Mediterranean variety also known as Alicante, Aragonés, Garnacha Tinta (Spain), Cannonau (Italy) and Elegante (Corsica) produces compact, medium-sized bunches of plump, juicy grapes with blue-black skin and translucent flesh. Grenache vines are resistant and strong. They grow on slopes where the soil is poor, dry and stony, and produce wonderfully full-bodied, fruity wines with a high alcohol content and a spicy bouquet.Grenache is almost never found as a single varietal, but usually blended with varieties that add structure and freshness, such as Syrah, Mourvèdre or Carignan.
This noble variety comes from the northern Rhône region, so is also known as Hermitage. It has compact bunches of generally small and sweet grapes and is prone to fungal infection; it doesn't like damp conditions and is susceptible to wind damage. Having been used to produce top-class wines in the northern Rhône – which are rich in tannins, full-bodied, fresh and aromatically complex, with good ageing potential – this grape variety has moved further and further south, thanks to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Grown in the best Languedoc locations (like the steep terraces of Faugères), it yields excellent wines. In blends with Grenache, Syrah grapes play an important role, providing structure, freshness and aromatic complexity.
This variety, known in Spain as Monastrell, is the secret weapon of Bandol winegrowers. It doesn't like the cold winter or dried-out soils, so it thrives on the protected stony slopes of Languedoc, growing best in limestone soil. With careful handling its medium-sized, thick-skinned, sweet and juicy grapes produce well-structured, full-bodied wines which age well, developing an interesting spicy bouquet of resin and leather over time. They are also rich in tannins, however, so tend to have a certain rusticality, which is why they are particularly good in blends, giving structure and depth.
Like most varieties from southern France, Carignan originated in Spain, where it's known as Mazuelo. Its medium-sized, thick-skinned grapes can grow in sizeable bunches, producing high yields and neutral-tasting wines.
Cinsault, also known as Picardan noir, is one of the few grape varieties indigenous to southern France. It benefits from the ability to deal particularly well with both dryness and heat. A disadvantage is that without thinning it can tend toward high yields of its primarily thin-skinned, medium-to-large grapes that grow in heavy bunches. It works particularly well in rosés, enriching them with its fruity, spicy aromas of wild red berries and blossoms. The few growers who cultivate this variety with extreme care are rewarded with fantastic base wines that are a wonderful addition to the palette of different tastes that the south of France already has to offer.
Until a few years ago, Languedoc was always associated with red wines (or sweet wines). Without the use of gentle modern presses it was almost impossible for winemakers in the south to produce dry white wines. Nowadays, however, even small operations have this equipment, so white wine production is increasing slowly but surely, although it is still below ten percent. There is no lack of either suitable terroirs or suitable grape varieties, though: winemakers can take their pick from an entire range of varieties that is even more extensive than their choice of red wine grapes. This is not least due to the fact that they have a lot of freedom as regards what varieties can be used in table wines, which still represent the majority of wines produced in Languedoc, meaning there is plenty of room for experimentation.
Clairette is the oldest grape variety still cultivated in Languedoc. Left untouched, it produces wines with quite a high alcohol content and little acidity, which oxidize quickly. It is thus traditionally used to create oxidized, sherry-like wines. Yet when cultivated well it is capable of much, much more. As in the south of the Rhône valley, its other qualities are being rediscovered: discreet fruity and floral aromas and delicate bitterness.
This variety originating from Spain, which has an interesting sister variety, Grenache gris, has long been underrated, always for the same reasons: wrong growing location, yields too high. It is accused of being too high in alcohol, tasting neutral, having little acidity and even less potential. Yet cultivated correctly, this resistant variety produces full-bodied, fruity wines with incredibly sophisticated aromas.
The same applies to this heirloom indigenous variety as applies to the previous two: careful cultivation is the key. It determines whether you get a wine that oxidizes quickly, smells strongly of honey and despite its dark golden colour actually tastes rather bland, or a light wine like today's Pinet, with refreshing acidity and hints of pear and almond blossom.
Muscat à petits grains
This small-berried variety with its characteristic Muscat spiciness is, quite rightly, considered the best of its kind. It prefers chalky, sandy loam or sandstone soils like those found in Frontignan, Lunel, Mireval and Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, communities that specialize in producing sweet Muscat, adding pure wine alcohol to stop the fermentation naturally.