Languedoc – Roussillon wine, including the vin de pays labeled Vin de Pays d’Oc, is produced in southern France. While “Languedoc” can refer to a specific historic region of France and Northern Catalonia, usage since the 20th century (especially in the context of wine) has primarily referred to the northern part of the Languedoc-Roussillon région of France, an area which spans the Mediterranean coastline from the French border with Spain to the region of Provence. The area has around 700,000 acres (2,800 km2) under vines and is the single biggest wine-producing region in the world, being responsible for more than a third of France’s total wine production. As recently as 2001, the region produced more wine than the entire United States.
Carignan is the most widely planted variety with others grown including Roussanne, Marsanne, Picpoul Blanc, Chardonnay and Grenache Noir. Wines from Corbières and Fitou can be found on many supermarkets.
The five best known appellations in the Languedoc include Coteaux du Languedoc, Corbières AOC, Faugères, Minervois AOC, and Saint-Chinian AOCs. The vast majority of Languedoc wines are produced by wine cooperatives which number more than 500. However, the appellation system in the region is undergoing considerable changes with both new appellations being created and existing ones changing. One recent change is that the Coteaux du Languedoc has changed name to Languedoc and been extended to include also the Roussillon.
Within the larger Coteaux du Languedoc appellations are several sub-districts with distinct wine styles of their own. Some of these sub-districts have pending applications to become appellations in their own right and some have been granted sub-appellations to the umbrella appellation Coteaux du Languedoc. These include the Quatourze, La Clape, Montpeyroux, St. Saturnin, Picpoul de Pinet, Terrasses du Larzac and Pic St.-Loup.
The boundary of the eastern Languedoc with the Southern Rhône Valley wine region was moved slightly in 2004, with the result that Costières de Nîmes region is now a Rhône appellation rather than a Languedoc one. Local producers of Côtes du Rhône-styled wines made from Syrah and Grenache lobbied for this change since the local winemaking traditions did not coincide with administrative borders, and presumably due to the greater prestige of Rhône wines in the marketplace. Such changes of borders between wine regions are very rare, so out of habit, Costières de Nîmes remains listed as a Languedoc wine in many publications.
The Languedoc-Roussillon area is home to numerous grape varieties, including many international varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay. The traditional Rhône grapes of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Viognier are also prominent.
Chardonnay is a major white grape, used in the Vin de Pays d’Oc and the sparkling Crémant de Limoux. Others include Chenin blanc and Mauzac, which is also the principal grape in the sparkling Blanquette de Limoux. The sweet fortified wines of the Muscat de Frontignan and Muscat de St-Jean Minervois regions are made with the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains grapes. In the Muscat de Rivesaltes, fortified wines are made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes.
Among the reds, Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre are major grapes of the Corbières, Faugères, Fitou, and Minervois. Cinsault is also commonly used in rosé production along with Lladoner Pelut, Picpoul noir, Terret noir and Grenache. Grenache is also the main grape used in the fortified wines of the Banyuls and Rivesaltes region. Some of the oldest vines in France are Carignan grapes. Winemakers often use carbonic maceration to soften the tannins.
Other varieties that can be found include Roussanne, Marsanne, Vermentino, Bourboulenc, Clairette blanche, Grenache blanc, Grenache gris, Picpoul, Maccabéo and Rolle.
The history of Languedoc wines can be traced to the first vineyards planted along the coast near Narbonne by the early Greeks in the fifth century BC. Along with parts of Provence, these are the oldest planted vineyards in France. The region of Languedoc has belonged to France since the thirteenth century and the Roussillon was acquired from Spain in the mid-seventeenth century. The two regions were joined as one administrative region in the late 1980s.
From the 4th century through the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Languedoc had a reputation for producing high quality wine. In Paris during the 14th century, wines from the St. Chinian area were prescribed in hospitals for their “healing powers”. During the advent of the Industrial Age in the late 19th century, production shifted towards mass-produced le gros rouge — cheap red wine that could satisfy the growing work force. The use of highly prolific grape varieties produced high yields and thin wines, which were normally blended with red wine from Algeria to give them more body.
The phylloxera epidemic in the 19th century severely affected the Languedoc wine industry.
During both World Wars the Languedoc was responsible for providing the daily wine rations given to French soldiers. In 1962, Algeria gained its independence from France, bringing about an end to the blending of the stronger Algerian red wine to mask the thin le gros rouge. This event, coupled with French consumers moving away from cheap red wines in the 1970s, has contributed to several decades of surplus wine production in France, with Languedoc as the largest contributor to the European “wine lake” and recurring European Union subsidies aimed at reducing production. These developments prompted many Languedoc producers to start refocusing on higher quality, but has also led to many local and regional protests, including violent ones from the infamous Comité Régional d’Action Viticole (CRAV).
Despite the general reputation as a mass producer and a consensus that the region is in the midst of an economic crisis, parts of the Languedoc wine industry are experiencing commercial success due to outside investment and an increased focus on quality. Sales have been improved by many vineyards that concentrate on creating a good brand name rather than relying on the sometimes infamous regional designations.