Languedoc-Roussilon is the largest wine producing region in the world and lies on the border of the Mediterranean sea, between the Rhone delta and Spain. This area holds fifty thousand vine growers (total population 2.4 million) spread over 27,400 square km (10,500 square mi) that swelter in the intense summer heat to produce over 2 billion bottles of wine.

Mild winters and hot summers cooperate with the diverse soil types of the area ranging from limestone and sandstone to granite pebbles and produce Carignan, Grenache, Merlot and other reds. The Roussane, Viognier, Chardonnay and other whites provide ample work for 400 cooperatives and 2,800 private wineries in a region from Muscat in the east to Banyuls in the southwest.

Originally the work of Greeks who began growing around the 6th century BC, after the Roman conquest viticulture developed quickly, then continued under the Visigoths in the 5th century. During the 9th century the monasteries continued to grow along with the hillside vineyards, where valleys were reserved for grains. In the 19th century, the plains were converted to vineyards as well. Viticulture today is concentrated in the plains of Aude, Herault and Gard. These three regions alone produce nearly half of France's total grape output.

For a number of years the area produced many mediocre wines, but recently the area has celebrated the resurgence of extraordinary Syrah. This is opaque, purple-colored and holds aromas of sweet blackberry spiced with black pepper and cassis.

During the past 10 years the area's reputation has also been improved by Vin de Pays d'Oc with its unique regional characteristics, such as the earthy Minervois and Corbieres.

While most winegrowing regions are dominated by individual Chateaux, this are is dominated by cooperatives that purchase grapes from local growers. These include the delicious Vin Doux naturel made from Muscat or Grenache. The process involves adding grape spirit to halt fermentation, preserve sweetness and raise alcohol levels to 15-16 percent. The Muscat de Frontignan or Banyuls make for wonderful dessert wines that can compete with a Port for aging potential.

Whites have also begun making a comeback with the Chardonnay and the Marsanne grown in Argelier, 30 km (18.6 mi) west of Beziers. The grapes here are grown in chalky soil, are harvested early and are allowed only a few hours of skin contact prior to pressing. The end result is a fresh, dry white with aromas of apple and oak.

Those that cannot be torn from red, there is the spicy and full-bodied Corbieres made from Grenache and Carignan grown in limestone, marl and sandstone. This area produces 70 million bottles that are capable of aging 3-7 years.

Roussillon is the sunniest region of France and is more similar to Spain than the other areas. The Carignan dominates and produces reds that are spicy and medium body with hints of licorice.

Look for new developments from this large, ancient are of French winemaking.

Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.

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