Wine Guide
Languedoc-Roussillon Fine Wine
The Languedoc-Roussillon region is by far the biggest wine region in the world, yet sadly often forgotten when it comes to fine wine. Its massive 224,000 hectares made 183 million cases of wine between 2015 and 2016 with numbers significantly rising year on year. The business is worth well over €450m at last count. This means that 5% of the world’s wine is produced in Languedoc and Roussillon, with volumes far higher than those of Chile, Australia or South Africa. So why do we overlook Languedoc Roussillon as a fine wine producing region?

Strategically placed both on the Mediterranean coast with a maritime route to the Atlantic, and on the Canal du Midi, Languedoc and Roussillon rose to fame in the 17th century. Long acclaimed (there is evidence of a 1st century AD winery near Montpellier) for its superior rocky, sandy, clay soil and clement Mediterranean climate, there is no doubt that the region is a source of national pride when it comes to French wines. However, with quantity does not always come quality, and while the region is by far the busiest, it is not always the best.

Wines from Languedoc-Roussillon are considered great value for money, and very much an everyday drink. Sunday picnic? Why, a perky little Corbieres is perfect! Friends pop by unexpectedly? Offer them a glass of Minervois. Long day at work? Could be that a nice Faugeres is your answer. Boss coming round to dinner? Erm… could be time to break out the Bordeaux. The point being that the region is considered generally low-quality (especially from an investment point of view) due to overproduction and underperformance. With Bordeaux grabbing the spotlight from 1855 onwards, Languedoc Roussillon faded into the background, and even the implementation of AOC regulations could do nothing to save it.

Thankfully, the only constant thing in life is change and an enterprising group of new producers arose in the late 20th century with a mission in mind: to harness the viticultural strengths of the land and give the region new possibilities. It looks like they could be on a winning streak as even noted critic Jancis Robinson MW, noted the upsurge when she wrote in her Financial Times column in September 2017: “This summer I was struck by just how much great wine is being produced here (white and pink as well as red)”.

Within the 22 AOCs (7 Crus du Languedoc, 14 Grands Vins du Languedoc and 1 Languedoc AOC), certain committed producers (Domaine de la Grange, Château de la Negly and Gerard Betrand to name just three) have begun to make impressive single varietal wines that focus on quality rather than mass-production. In addition, a younger demographic interested in inexpensive, good-value wines (especially reds) in the world markets has helped to breathe new life into the region. The region also offers a pocket-friendly alternative example to Rhone wines. It might be Languedoc, but not as we know it.

However, only 16% of these wines are actually produced as AOCs, with the rest falling under the Vin de Pays d'Oc appellation, showing that the region still has some way to go if it wants to be taken seriously in the fine wine arena. In 2017 there were 22 AOCs in Languedoc-Roussillon for producers to label their wines under; a minuscule amount compared to Burgundy's 106 or the Loire's 93. But small can be beautiful and the Languedoc Roussillon fine wines display an impressive diversity of terroir and region.

This is a region where le petit producteur can afford to be creative. With land still (relatively) cheap, vineyards are not limited to heritages, superstar names or faceless corporations. Because of the region’s size and similarities to the Rhone, Rhone Valley grape varieties (Mourvèdre, Cinsaut, and Grenache and Syrah for reds, and Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier for the whites), yet the wines themselves are amazingly diverse. Cabernet Sauvignon is, of course, a standard and even native grapes such as Carignan Blanc and Terret Bourret have made a comeback. Variety is vast: whether you like nervy whites, sweet wines or terroir-driven reds, you’ll find your thrill in Languedoc.

There is no doubt that Languedoc-Roussillon fine wines still have some way to go. The mass flooding of the region in 2018 was a huge blow to the region, with between 40 and 50% of vineyards being wiped out. The damage is estimated at a massive €200 million (and counting). The wines remain under the shroud of their past and, bar a few producers, have yet to reach the giddy heights of their elite neighbours. Nonetheless, the region plays an incredibly important role in the history of French wine. We expect great things very soon.