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Home > Discover the Wine > Grape Varieties

Languedoc grape varieties

 

RED GRAPES
CARIGNAN is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in the Languedoc Roussillon region, south of France. These wines are high in alcohol, deep coloured, full bodied and lots of tannin. It needs time to develop becoming gamey, spicy and rich in flavour. When blended it gives the wine structure and body.
CINSAULT probably originated in France and many regions use Cinsault for fruit and finesse and is usually combined with Carignon and Grenache Noir.
Granache NoirGRENACHE NOIR probably originated from Spain and is usually combined with Cabernet and Cinsault to give alcohol, fatness and generosity. Grenache is often used in Languedoc Roussillon, south of France, and produces strong wines with deep colour with a lovely fruity raspberry and black-current flavour. This wine is low in tannin making it an excellent wine to blend with the higher tannin varieties.
SyrahSYRAH this grape has been cultivated in France since Roman times, it produces a wine with the intense smell of violets, spices, green pepper and tar! It resists oxidation and ages well but needs several years to develop. Syrah brings aroma and finesse to the blend
MOURVEDRE this variety was planted in Languedoc Roussillon, South France since at least the 16th century. It produces a spicy, slightly gamey wine with a lovely deep opaque colour when young plenty of tannin and full bodied. It needs time to develop and goes very well with Grenache.
CABERNET FRANC is sometimes compared as a poor relation of Cabernet Sauvignon but the wines are lighter and more delicate in style. Cabernet Franc is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon.
MerlotMERLOT is grown in the cooler parts of the Languedoc Roussillon region, south of France, and has become very popular. It gives a supple well coloured wine of good quality and can be drunk young.
WHITE GRAPES

ChardonnayCHARDONNAY is one of the most famous wine varieties used to produce Champagne, Chablis and of course Limoux in the Languedoc. It produces a wine high in alcohol with a slight lemon and fruit salad flavour. More and more Chardonnay is vinified in Oak in this region.

GRENACHE BLANC is mainly grown in the South of the region. It produces wines lower in alcohol and with less flavour and is mainly used for Vin Doux Naturelles.
PICPOUL BLANC this variety is used in the production of Picpoul de Pinet which makes a lovely dry, clean, perhaps slightly neutral wine.
MARSANNE came to the Languedoc from the Rhone valley and is generally blended to give body weight and perfume. It produces richly flavoured, aromatic wines which age well.
ROUSSANNE also came from the Rhone valley and is a good wine for blending. It ripens late giving finesse and bouquet.
VIOGNIER this variety has become increasingly popular in the Languedoc. It has a unique perfume and flavour and is usually sold without blending.
MAUZAC is the grape variety used exclusively for the production of Blanquette de Limoux. These wines mature rapidly, have a fine bouquet with a slightly apple flavour and a pleasant hint of bitterness and good acidity.
Chenin BlancCHENIN BLANC this variety came down from the Loire Valley and is useful in adding freshness and acidity to white wine blends. It can produce a sappy crisp wine with good acidity and for this reason it is part of the blend in Blanquette de Limoux.
Listel also uses Chenin Blanc in the Coteaux de Languedoc area.
CLAIRETTE BLANCHE is probably the oldest white wine variety of the Languedoc. It is used for the appellations Clairette du Languedoc and Clairette de Bellegarde and it is also used in Vin Doux Naturelles and Vermouth. This wine is high in alcohol and tends to oxidise rapidly.

The majority of red AOP (formally AOC) wines are made using Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Carignan, either just 2 or 3 or all 4 but never just 1. There are a couple of appellations that insist on the use of Atlantic (Bordeaux) grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec (often called Cot). They are however always blended with at least one Mediterranean grape such as Grenache or Syrah. There is also an old southern France grape called Cinsault but unfortunately plantings are in decline. It is a large, plump grape with thin skin making it ideal for making rosé wine. It’s also delicious straight off the vine and eaten with cheese!

 

Of all the above varieties the one that is anonymous to most people is Carignan. This is actually a Spanish grape and has been planted in Languedoc-Roussillon for over 100 years. It had a very bad reputation for producing tannic, acidic and astringent wine. This was mainly caused by over yielding the vine or picking too early which resulted in unripe fruit. With careful farming, site selection and picking low yielding vines at optimum ripeness, the wines can be elegant and seductive. It has enticing flavours of ripe black cherries, violets, spice and tobacco. In the last 10 years more and more producers are offering 100% Carignan wines and many of them from old vines. Some are OK and others are truly wonderful and all are labelled as IGP because 100% Carignan is not allowed in AOP wine here.

 

Although vin blanc takes a back seat in AOP wines the list of white varietals is longer than the red. Many of them are local to the region, even so the authorities decided to allow plantings of ‘outsiders’ aimed at improving the white wines of the region. The two main outsiders are Marsanne and Roussanne which originate from the Rhône and have adapted well and are now allowed in many of the appellations. Viognier is another Rhône variety that has really taken off since its arrival here in the 1990’s. It’s mainly used to make single varietal, IGP wines but it is gradually being allowed in some appellation wines.

 

Another white grape that is very important in Languedoc-Roussillon is Grenache Blanc and its sister Grenache Gris. The Grenache family of grape varietals like the Pinot family have grapes in 3 colours. We have all heard of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, although most people know this last one due to the Italianising of the name into Pinot Grigio. Gris in French means grey but in actuality the gris grape is a deepish pink colour. The same spectrum of colours are found in the Grenache family; Grenache noir, Grenache blanc and Grenache gris. In fact you will find many more grape families with these 3 colours such as Carignan, Picpoul and another obscure variety of Languedoc, Terret.

 

Gris grapes can be used to make very pale rosé wines or if the skins are not included in the wine making process, you can make delicious white wines from them. None of the Languedoc appellations allow Grenache Gris in the blend but Roussillon does. It’s absolutely delicious and one of my firm favourites.

 

The list of white grape varietals seems never ending and includes Bourboulenc, an ancient variety planted here by the Greeks and found all across the south of France. It’s allowed in the blend of red and white Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhône but is at its best in the white wines of La Clape, an appellation close to Narbonne. Macabeu (pronounced Macc-a-boo in France) is in fact a Spanish grape and known as Viura in Rioja. It is mainly found in the Roussillon where it is often blended with Grenache Blanc.

 

It’s not often that the grape variety is part of the name of a French wine but it is in the case of Picpoul de Pinet. It’s a delicious white wine grown around the Etang de Thau and is the perfect match for the shell fish farmed there. Pinet is the name of the village in the heart of the appellation and Picpoul is the grape which incidentally means Lip Stinger..!

 

Vermentino is a Corsican grape now allowed in many of the appellation white wines of Languedoc. Its refreshing smack of grapefruit and citrus flavour adds a zing to any white wine. You will also come across Sauvignon Blanc allowed in IGP wines. It’s a long way from its northerly home of the Loire Valley and it often lacks the magic it displays in its preferred cool climate. Mauzac is found in the Limoux area where it plays a starring role in the in the sparkling wine produced there and shares the stage with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.

 

Muscat is one of the oldest grape varieties in France planted by the Romans but there are many types of Muscat. The best is called Muscat à Petits Grain, meaning small Muscat grape. It produces wines that are very aromatic with the scent of roses, orange blossom, passion fruit and fresh grapes. Another Muscat grape is Muscat d’Alexandrie which is found exclusively in Roussillon.

 

The flexibility of the IGP category allows over 30 grape varieties to be planted in the Languedoc-Roussillon and therefore you will find many other grape varieties planted here. Many of the IGP wines are single varietal in the style of the New World but others are a blend of varietals that produce complexity and interest. What one grape doesn’t have another does and so the wine maker can create a wine much like a chef creates a dish.

 

Grape varieties are important but remember it’s the environment they are grown in that will shape the style and flavours of the wine.

 

READ ON about Languedoc wine certifications >

 

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