The Languedoc is one of the world’s oldest wine-growing regions dating back thousands of years. Few of these grape varieties survive. Today, their modern counterparts prevail. It’s the sheer ingenuity and vision of the region’s growers in experimenting with these grapes that results in the ground-breaking, distinctive and diverse wines for which the Languedoc has become known. Creative blends and processes, some using, for example, 100% Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, defy traditional AOC stipulations to create stunning and original wines that go beyond classification.
In this creative climate, the AOC rules on grape varieties, originally set up to protect growers, have been questioned and many growers are experimenting with grape varieties forbidden by the appellations. They’re using not the traditional Languedoc varieties but noble ones, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, which hadn’t previously been grown in quantity in the Languedoc. As a result, their wines, however fine, can not use the AOC designation and must content themselves with a Vin de Pays label. In some instances, these command higher prices than their AOC counterparts.
The Syrah grape (called Shiraz in Australia) has always been grown in the Languedoc but is currently experiencing a renaissance. Its complex tannins give concentration and structure, a deep colour, finesse, and,on occasion, a roasted, smokey character. When mature it can suggest game and mushrooms, even burnt rubber or tar.
Grenache is the main red grape of the south although a relative newcomer, planted after the phylloxera plague. It gives good fruit and alcohol but is low in acidity and oxidizes fast. It lacks colour and tannin, but is invaluable for blending. It is the back bone of red vins doux naturels in particular.
Catalan by birth, this is the main stay of the wines of Bandol and contributes pepper and spice flavours. It makes structured, deeply coloured, robust wine, with good acidity. Most often found as a supporting grape, it’s not easy to grow and takes time to come to maturity, just as its wine needs ageing.
This is another postphylloxera Spanish import, suited to poor soils such as schist, and resistant to the strong winds of the South. Dark and generously alcoholic, it is generally vinified by maceration carbonique, a technique which maximises fruit flavours. It’s usually blended, although some growers make a varietal wine from it. Carignan is making a comeback.
This is another frownedupon grape, although with the longest history of all in the Languedoc. It will give fruity, pleasant, soft wines if yields are kept low and the soil is poor enough. Lighter in colours than any of the foregoing, it is much valued for making rosé wines, and for moderating the power of Grenache.
Petits Grains is one of two kinds of Muscat in the South. Found in the vins doux naturels of the Languedoc Roussillon, Muscat grows well on chalky soil, producing one of the few wines to taste of grapes.
The mainstay of many of the sparkling wines of Limoux, Mauzac isrecognisable by its aroma of apples and pears. With an acidity thatweakens as the grape matures, it’s sometimes blended with Cheninand Chardonnay fruit.
Marsanne is often blended with Roussanne but doesn’t have quite the same status. Its wines, though, can be good with some acidity and an attractive bouquet. The plant is vigorous, fertile and needs sharp pruning to limit its yields.
The white cousin of Grenache Noir, this is very similar apart from colour and earlier cycles. The grapes can give sweet or dry wine, the latter soft and full but sometimes high in acidity and alcohol. It’s the backbone of many Southern wines.
Terret is grown mainly in mid-Languedoc and makes crisp, dry wine which can transcend the ordinary in the hands of good growers. Quite fashionable.
This is the most widely cultivated white grape in Spain but is also grown in Southern France where it is the sole variety in Cotes du Roussillon blanc. Maccabeu based wines are generally lighter, highin acidity, slightly floral and fruity.
Also known as Rolle, Vermentino is an aromatic white wine variety whose native habitat is now the Italian region of Liguria and the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Corsica but it is becoming increasingly popular in Languedoc Roussillon. It is aromatic and adds good body and acidity.
Formerly the chief white grape of the Midi, Clairette has been cut by 80% during the last fifty years. It produces alcoholic and sweet or dry wines, often with apple aromas. Its lack of acidity necessitates early drinking.
Currently very fashionable in the Languedoc, this variety is not yet permitted in the AOC area, but soon will be. Requiring careful vinification, its wines are aromatic and complex, with notes of peach, apricot and tropical fruits.
Native to the Rhône valley, this newcomer to the Langudeoc hassettled well, producing fine, complex wines with flavours of honey,flowers and apricot. It has good acidity and strength which ensuresthey keep well.