Ultimate Guide to the Languedoc Roussillon Wine Region

The chalky, dry soil of this vineyard in Languedoc, France is ideal for cultivating grapes. See our collection of wine pictures. ­
iStockphoto/Diane White Rosier

­Languedoc. Pronounced "Lanhng-dawk," the name flows once you know how to say it -- kind of like a fine wine. The name of this southern French region means, literally, "speech" of the south French [source: Dictionary.com]. Regardless of the language that you speak, there's one word that unites anyone who comes for a visit to this Pyrenees-dotted region, and that, mon cheri, is wine. ­

Influenced by everyone from the Greeks and their olive trees to the Spaniards and their Catalan, the Languedoc Roussillon region of Fran­ce lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, making it a prominent thoroughfare and trade route.

Known today for the castles of Carcassonne and the breathtaking vistas and agricultural scenes of France, the 700,000 acres (283,000 hectares) of the Languedoc Roussillon region is one of the world's most productive and affordable wine regions [sources: Discover France, Wine.com].

­Apart from the lovely regional cuisine, architecture and culture native to Languedoc, this area is one of France's several appellations, or certified areas in which certain grapes are grown. With this recent official AOC appellation title applied to labels, the region is looking to find a way into the minds and meals of consumers everywhere [source:­ Macle].

The variety of red and white (but mostly red) French wines typical of this southern region are a bit strong and quite potent, but very modestly priced [source: Robinson]. Lined with canals and dotted with quaint towns, farming villages and a host of French agriculture, the Languedoc Roussillon wine region is nothing short of an extraordinary visual and gustatory experience [source: Lonely Planet].

If you've only just learned of the Languedoc Roussillon wine region, you're not alone. Read on to learn just how this "secret garden" works to do what it does.

Languedoc Roussillon Wine History and Culture

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Given its history, it is amazi­ng that the Languedoc Roussillon region is becoming known as one of the world's most productive wine regions. Home to the Cathars, who believed that human life was trapped in a world created by a deity identified with Satan, the robust region was more purgatory than pleasure to the religious sect that lived and worked the land. Meat, alco­hol and material possessions were forbidden --all in the name of joining God in heaven one day.

Things have changed from those early days, however. With plentiful local festivals, the renowned nude beaches along the coast and an intense love and appreciation of food and drink, the Languedoc Roussillon region has become known as a land worthy of eternal praise and solemn reverence in the wine world. Fleeing Catholic persecution, the Cathars ended up in Spain, leaving behind valuable land, ancient architecture, and a legacy as rich and storied as the wines now produced here [source: Le Breton].

Although wine production was typically limited to the churches, which used the drink during Mass, by the 18th century, France began to stake her claim as a leader in wine production. It was at this time that Bordeaux asserted itself among appellations. As vintners developed new strains of grapes and new flavors blossomed, wine became more than just a religious sacrament [source: New York Times]. It became a rite of passage into society. Today, the bullfighting, regional festivals, walking tours and architecture of the area are enjoyed by many from around the world [source: The Independent].

Read the next section to explore the region's agriculture and find out why the grapes of Languedoc Roussillon are so good.

The Languedoc Roussillon Wine Region Agriculture

Thermal waters, pastoral settings that Matisse would have admire­d and a bustling cultural center nearby [source: Woods]. If the Languedoc Roussillon hasn't sold you on its charms already, there's also the stuff you don't see, like the testy earth and vibrant climate of the Mediterranean lowlands -- perfect for thick vines of the Syrah and Grenache grapes, among others [source: Brown].

Agriculture is big business in France, and this area produces about half of the country's wine grapes [source: French-At-A Touch] With an average of 12 hours of sun a day, there's no shortage of light for new buds or the cultivation of peaches and tomatoes [source: Holiday Weather]. The downside of bountiful sun, however, is that overproduction can become a problem. With quality wines coming from other labels, some industry analysts have become critical of the wines of Languedoc [source: Prial].

Grapes need the perfect balance of the right amount of heat and just the right climate to grow. After a summer of growth, farmers begin sampling grapes for flavor in September [source: The Wine Rack Shop]. Harvest begins then, and if you'd like to dive right in a la Lucille Ball, fear not! With a variety of harvest tours and wine tastings in the area, it's possible for visitors to jump right in to help [source: Vinetude].

Traditionally, harvest once brought out all of the neighbors in the area to help with the collection of the grapes, but as competition and technology has increased, this tradition has changed [source: Lem].

Famous Wines of the Languedoc Roussillon

Grape development is a generational thing, not only the way fine wines are passed down throu­gh families but also in the creation of a new grape, something that takes around 20 years for researchers to create and grow [source: McCandless]. So far, you've learned the influence climate has on wine -- specifically, how the Languedoc Roussillon's Mediterranean heat makes a strong grape. In this section, see how different varieties of grapes lead to different flavors and wines within the region.

The Languedoc, France's largest wine producing region, focuses primarily on reds, although there are classes of white, rose, sparkling and sweet wines as well [source: French Institute, Reiss].

The red wines of Languedoc include:

  • Cabernet -- A strong, dense wine. If you like fruity wines, look for a Mas de Daumas Gassac Red, from the 1998 Vin de Pays d'Oc for a clear flavor of currants.
  • Merlot -- A smooth, full-bodied wine. The Domaine de Aspes 2003 has notes of berries and earthy flavors -- even a touch of tar.
  • Syrah/Shiraz -- Also smooth and rich, Syrah will give you a bit of a bite with its spiciness. A 2006 Domaine Saint Hubert Pic Saint Loup has earned critical attention. Look for herbs and licorice in its body.
  • Pinot Noir -- This classy variety will most likely remind you of several different fruits and flavors. A good pick is the M&S Grenache Noir Vine de Pays des Cotes Catalanes [sources: Gassac, Reiss, Robinson, Walsh].

The white wines of Languedoc include:

  • Sauvignon Blanc -- A high, crisp taste (imagine pastoral fields), this wine will carry its own distinct flavor by vintner. The Les Tours Sauvignon Blanc 2007 is popular.
  • Chardonnay -- Light and crisp, other areas of France are revered for their varietals of this kind. Try the Les Coteaux de Neffies 2007 Vin de Pays d'Oc for a taste of lemon and ginger.
  • Riesling -- This highly fruity wine can be served as a dessert wine.
  • Pinot Grigio/ Pinot Gris -- This sipping wine evokes smoky flavors [sources: My Wines Direct, Stolarski, Wine.com].

For more wine-related information, visit the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

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