The wine regions and domains of Languedoc Roussillon, South France
Some of Languedoc appellations are very well established and date back to the 1930’s but the region is still in a state of flux and gradually things are changing and more and more areas are becoming defined terroirs and gaining their own appellations. In 2007 the appellation known as Coteaux du Languedoc was replaced with AOP Languedoc but rather confusingly the 2 names will coexist until 2017. AOP Languedoc is more extensive than its predecessor as it covers the entire region of Languedoc and Roussillon. The wines are red, rosé and white and must be a blend of at least 2 grapes.
1: AOP Costières de Nîmes
A lovely sunny area reaching into the Carmargue and up to the city of Nîmes, producing good quality red, white and rosé wines at sensible prices. This wine region is administered by the Rhône which it has a lot in common with including the soils types which include smooth pebbles that reflect the heat up at the vines and help with the ripening process.
2: AOP Faugères
Faugères covers seven villages north of Pézenas and Béziers and produces fine red, rosé and white wines. The vineyards are planted on steep slopes of infertile schist which is a highly regarded soil type amongst wine makers for it produces red wines with good natural acidity and fine tannins even when the wines are young. This vineyard area is possibly the most promising of all the Languedoc vineyard regions, containing some very old vines and a unique terroir which has attracted many quality wine makers.
3: AOP Clairette du Languedoc
This small appellation for white wine only is located immediately north of the Pézenas wine district and dates back to Roman times. It is made in two styles, dry and sweet but if you go back over 2000 years ago it was always a sweet wine. As a dry wine it has flavours of tropical fruit such as passion fruit and guava and when sweet these flavours are joined with honey.
4: AOP St Chinian
Saint-Chinian wines have been highly regarded since the late 1800’s so much so that patients were prescribed them in the hospitals of Paris! There are two distinct halves to this appellation based on the soil types. Schist is in the north where the area meets the Faugères appellation and clay/limestone in the south towards the Minervois. Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre are the main grape varieties for the reds and Carignan is not so important here. The wines are of high quality and will vary quite considerably depending where they were grown. White is now allowed in the appellation and the wines must be a blend of at least 2 grapes with Grenache Blanc compulsory accompanied by Marsanne, Rousanne or Vermentino.
4: AOP Saint-Chinian Berlou
AOP Saint-Chinian Berlou is one of the 4 cru’s in Languedoc, in other words an appellation within an appellation. It received its own appellation for red wine only in 2005 and producers must adhere to stricter regulations than the St Chinian AOP requires. This includes hand harvesting, lower yields than the rest of St Chinian and the wine must be aged for a minimum of 15 months before it can be released for sale. This means it cannot be sold until December 1st of the year following the harvest. The wines typically have black fruit flavours, liquorice and grilled and roasted notes with silky tannins of great finesse.
4: AOP Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun
AOP Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun is the other cru in this region and takes its name from the village of Roquebrun which stands on a mountain side below its Carolingian tower and overlooking a bend in the beautiful River Orb. Although this appellation encompasses fewer villages than Berlou its production is almost double that of its neighbour with the highly regarded co-operative Cave Les vins de Roquebrun being the majority producer. Grenache and Syrah are the backbone of these wines with Mourvèdre and Carignan playing supporting roles and the blending rules are quite complex. Typically the wines are complex and powerful with aromas of red and black spicy fruits and a supple roundness in the mouth and fine tannins.
5: AOP Minervois
The Minervois is mainly in the department of the Aude with some of it straddling the border into the Hérault. It stretches from Carcassonne to Narbonne and northwards towards the Montagne Noire from the Canal du Midi. It is a place of fantastic beauty, dotted with Romanesque chapels and churches and pretty villages and has an incredible history. At its heart is the village of Minerve which 800 years ago sheltered a small group of Cathars from the Popes mercenary Simon du Montfort.
In 2012 94% of AOP Minervois wine was red, 4% was rosé and only a minuscule 2% was white. The red wines display intense ‘garrigue’ perfume and concentrated black fruits and often have a distinct black olive tapenade character and notes of pepper and spice summoning up the warmth of the Mediterranean sunshine in every sip.
5: AOP Minervois -La Livinière
In 1999 the first cru of the Languedoc-Roussillon was created. The terroir lies in the foothills of the Montagne Noire and takes its name from one of the villages in the area. The soils are stony and include limestone and there is more altitude here providing some cooler conditions than other parts of the Minervois. It’s a red wine appellation only producing wines that are perfumed, have higher acidity and firmer tannins giving the structure needed to age wine for extended periods.
6: AOP Cabardès
The region of Cabardès is just 10k north-west of Carcassonne and encompasses 18 villages. It was named after the Lords of Cabaret who defended the Châteaux de Lastours against Simon de Montfort in 1209. It is one of the youngest appellations in France, having only become official in February 1999. It stands out from the rest of the Languedoc because of the grape varieties planted here which are an equal split between Mediterranean and Atlantic (Bordeaux) grape varieties. Red Cabardès wines are generally dark and complex with rich developing aromas of blackcurrant, black cherries, ripe prunes and violet. Their ageing potential stretches from 2 to 10 years. The rosé wine is hard to find and only 10% of the production is made this way. When you do find a bottle you will be rewarded with a beautifully perfumed nose and refreshing red fruit flavours of cherry and raspberry. No white wines are allowed in the appellation so any produced here are bottled as IGP.
7: AOP Malepère
Currently Malepère is an obscure region but its well worth a visit and offers a very different terrain to the more recognizable Languedoc appellations. It is a hilly area south-west of the city of Carcassonne which is included in the appellation along with 31 other towns and villages and is an appellation for red and rosé wine. Influenced by the Atlantic, the wines contain both Bordeaux and Mediterranean grapes with Merlot dominating the blend. The wines are usually deep in colour with redcurrant, raspberry and blackcurrant on the nose with hints of spices, truffle, pepper and a lightly wooded scent. They can be light and simple and made for early drinking but some have a powerful and rounded palate with good acid and tannins and develop well when matured in casks.
8: AOP Blanquette Ancestral
In 1533 the Monks of St. Hilaire Abbey near Limoux noticed their wine went into a second fermentation – and thus sparkling wine was invented long before Dom Pérignon! These days we can buy Blanquette Ancestral which is much the same as the one the monks made. It’s a low alcohol, sweet and fruity fizz, made using a local grape variety called Mauzac and tastes a little like a high quality cider. It’s a good accompaniment to a slice of cake or finish a meal with a light raspberry mousse and glass of Blanquette Ancestral.
9: AOP Blanquette de Limoux
The other 2 sparkling wines made in Limoux are made the same way as Champagne but using local grape varieties. One of these is called Blanquette du Limoux which is usually a dry wine made from the Mauzac grape plus small amounts of Chardonnay and Chenin blanc and aged for a short time in the cellar before being released for sale. It is light and easy to drink with flavours of bruised apples and its low cost encourages people to drink it at any time.
9: AOP Crémant du Limoux
If you’re looking for something a little more like Champagne then you will like the final sparkler produced here called Crémant du Limoux. It spends a longer time in the cellar and is produced using Chardonnay plus Chenin Blanc, Mauzac and for the rosé version Pinot Noir and is often complex with flavours of cream and biscuit plus apricot, acacia, apple and citrus flavours such as tangerine and grapefruit. It is a superb rival for Champagne and usually the price is much lower.
9: AOP Limoux Blanc
Although the majority of wine from Limoux is sparkling there are some excellent still wines made here too. The first of these to receive Appellation status in 1993 was Limoux Blanc which can be made from the local grape Mauzac, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Although the wines can be made from just one of these grapes or a blend the rule is that the vineyard must be planted with at least 15% of Mauzac..! The rules for these wines are indeed strict and sometimes bizarre. For instance there is a rule that limits the size of the harvesting trailer to a maximum 3000kg..!
9: AOP Limoux Rouge
AOP Limoux Rouge was introduced in 2004 and although the rules are less strict they are quite rigorously defined. Sadly this has not led to the most consistent red wines and I think the authorities missed an opportunity by insisting the wine should be made mainly with Merlot when Pinot Noir might have been a better choice. Pinot Noir is planted here but much of it is destined for Crémant production or IGP Pays d’Oc.
10: AOP Corbières
This is the biggest appellation in Languedoc and the 4th largest in France and produces exciting, dense and herby red and rosé wines and a small amount of increasingly well-made whites. The area is large and the terroirs so diverse that the wines are considerably different from one end of the region to the other, tending to be as varied as the terroir.
10: AOP Corbières-Boutenac
AOP Corbières-Boutenac is currently the only cru in the Corbières. It’s grown on red stony soils that are exposed to the warm Mediterranean sun and cooled by the fierce Tramontane wind that frequently blows here. Rainfall is low, often none falls at all during the long summer months, but the ancient Carignan vines, some of them a century old have deep roots and can withstand the drought. Carignan is the most important grape in this wine making up to 50% of the blend. Amongst the producers of these cru wines there is a deep pride and a collective aim to bottle only their best wines as Corbières- Boutenac and wines that do not reach these high standards are bottled as AOP Corbières. The wines are dense with black fruit flavours including cherry and blackberry wrapped in the herby garrigue flavours plus spicy and notes of tobacco, mocha and leather.
11: AOP Fitou
The Fitou appellation was created in 1948 making it one of the oldest in Languedoc. Local politics at the time caused the appellation to be delimited into two districts with standard Corbières wine grown on the land in between. The two areas are known as Fitou Maritime and Haut Fitou and although it was local politics that split the appellation, the two districts produce different style wines. Haut Fitou is a remote and mountainous part of the Corbières 20 minutes inland from its seaside cousin and set in some of the most rugged and wild corners of Languedoc. The wines are usually deep coloured with flavours of black fruit, spice and pepper. Some are matured in barrel producing a wine that is full bodied and silky smooth and a perfect accompaniment to beef or Sanglier, the wild boar that roam these hills. Fitou Maritime is warmer and the vines are planted at much lower altitude on fairly fertile clay based soils. The wines are generally lighter in body than the Haut Fitou, less concentrated and more suitable for early drinking.
The largest appellation in the region goes by the name of Côtes du Roussillon and stretches across the entire region encompassing a wide range of terroirs and producing an equally wide range of wine styles. This appellation covers red, rosé and white wine. The red wines can vary from light, fruity and youthful to complex and concentrated, suitable for extended ageing. Whites are often light and delicate but with an underlying richness and power and have an elegance not necessarily associated with such a warm region.
12: AOP Côtes du Roussillon-Les Aspres
There is just one cru in the Côtes du Roussillon. Les Aspres is found in the most southerly part of the region. It’s an appellation for red wine only and the wines have a fragrant nose and are elegant with spicy concentration.
12: AOP Côtes du Roussillon Village
AOP Côtes du Roussillon Village encompasses 32 villages all located between the two river valleys, the Agly and the Tét. It’s in this area that many passionate and talented wine makers have resurrected abandoned vineyards and breathed new life into discarded farms. A lot of them are farming and making wine using organic and biodynamic methods on small plots of 7 hectares or less. Many of the vines are old, over 80 years and some more than a century old. At this age the vine lowers its yield considerably which concentrates the flavours and produces wines of incredible depth and interest. It’s a red wine appellation only and white wines grown here are either labelled IGP or just plain Cotes du Roussillon without the word ‘Village’ in the title. Some of the villages in these valleys have been awarded ‘cru’ status and can put their most famous village name on the label.
12: AOP Côtes du Roussillon Village Caramany
AOP Côtes du Roussillon Village Caramany produces lighter, fruitier styles compared to the full bodied sort most commonly found in the Roussillon. AOP CDRV Lesquerde wines are full bodied, spicy with liquorice notes and often have a medicinal character. AOP CDRV Latour de France wines are elegant, lean and fresh with spicy notes.
12: AOP CDRV Tautavel
The villages of Vingrau and Tautavel are entitled to make the 4th cru, AOP CDRV Tautavel. The two villages are located on the Roussillon side of the Corbières hills, in some of the most scenic landscapes. The sea of vines are bathed in sunlight and reach intense ripeness which produces wines that are powerfully concentrated, perfumed, herby and full-bodied, with great depth of flavour and richness. These wines have the longest aging potential of the region.
13: AOP Maury
AOP Maury is the smallest of the Vins Doux Naturels (sweet & fortified) appellations in Roussillon. I would describe it as a little like a Ruby Port but not so fiery and often less sugary and slightly lower in alcohol with flavours of smoky raspberries, chocolate and tobacco. Although fairly rare you can also find white AOP Maury. It tastes of honey, apricots and quince and is delicious with hard cheeses as well as blue cheese.
13: AOP Maury Sec
Up until the 2011 vintage all Maury was sweet but now producers have a new appellation for dry (sec) red Maury. It’s a move to help the growers eke out a living on this tough landscape, as sweet wine is not as popular these days and it is hoped that a dry wine will save the cooperative dominated village.
14: AOP Rivesaltes
AOP Rivesaltes are Vins Doux Naturels wines grown mainly on the Roussillon plain around the town of Rivesaltes which is just north of Perpignan. There are quite a number of styles of Rivesaltes wine. They range from fruity and reasonably light, ideal as an aperitif, to deeply concentrated and complex to finish a meal or to accompany strong cheeses. Some are named after their colour:
Rosé which is a new addition to the appellation, introduced from the 2011 vintage. It has flavours of strawberry, raspberry, Grenadine and red currants and should be served chilled as a delicious aperitif.
Grenat means garnet which is the colour of this wine. Serve it chilled as an aperitif or try it with a chocolate desert…!
Tuilé takes its name from the colour of baked terracotta tiles; reddish brown with hints of orange and yellow. There are flavours of prunes, quince, tobacco, coffee and chocolate make this a delicious match with strong cheeses accompanied with quince jelly.
Ambré is a deep amber colour and is often a very complex wine with aromas and flavours of Seville oranges, crystallised fruit, hazelnuts and almonds. It is wonderful with cheeses and some orange based deserts.
And some are named after their maturity:
Hors d'âge means ‘beyond age’. The wine will be a minimum of 5 years old and have flavours of prunes and raisins, walnuts and almonds.
Rancio will be a faded brown colour and have flavours of caramel and toffee
14: AOP Muscat de Rivesaltes
AOP Muscat de Rivesaltes wines are a blend of both Muscat d’Alexandrie and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and are much more viscous and powerful than the Languedoc Muscat’s. The wines should be drank very cold and also when young – this is not a wine for ageing as it will lose what freshness it has and become dull and lifeless.
Muscat de Noël like Beaujolais Nouveau, is released on the third Thursday in November after the harvest and is one of the lightest styles of Muscat.
15: AOP Collioure
This is an appellation for dry red, white and rosé. The vines are planted on dramatically steep slopes that spill down to the sea and are so steep that tractors can’t enter the vineyards and all the work is carried out by man and mule. The red Collioure wines are full-bodied, rich, spicy, savoury and peppery. The Grenache based white wines are often barrel fermented giving body and intense honey and tropical fruit flavours. Some wines have an iodine character, due perhaps to the influence of the sea!
15: AOP Banyuls
Banyuls are Vin Doux Naturels wines and fundamentally there are two styles made. Traditionally they were matured in glass bonbonnes in the sunshine to achieve what’s called a Rancio character. These styles are still made and have flavours of caramel, toffee and walnuts and are delicious with a fine aged Manchego cheese. In later years much of the wine has been made to display the youthful heady aromas of macerated red fruits produced with no oxidation and with minimal ageing and are similar to vintage Port.
16: Languedoc Muscats
There are 4 Muscat Appellations in Languedoc and the most famous of them is Muscat de Frontignan found on the coast close to Montpellier. Many of the vines are planted close to the sea where they ripen well and produce rich, powerful, viscous wines with tropical flavours. Just slightly east and butting up to Frontignan is the Muscat de Mireval appellation where the vines meet the sea and bathe in the gentle, humid sea breezes rolling in on summer mornings. This gives freshness to the vines and along with the stony soils produces medium bodied wines with a fresher style than its neighbour Frontignan. The other 2 Muscat wines are grown in opposite directions to each other. The town of Lunel which calls itself the City of Muscat is half way between Montpellier and Nimes. The wine is light-ish and fairly refreshing and its claim to fame is that it was sent to comfort Napoleon during his incarceration on the island of St Helena. The final Muscat of Languedoc is Muscat-de-St-Jean-de-Minervois and is the freshest and most delicate of the Languedoc Muscat’s. The white limestone soils and the altitude of over 200m are the main influences, they give the wine a crisp freshness and add a delicacy that some Muscat’s lack. The nose has a perfume of freshly picked roses, honeysuckle and fresh grapes and the palate is a sweet floral honey with apricots, peaches and grapes.
READ ON about the Languedoc Terroir >