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
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
Swirl the wine gently, sniff and taste.
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