This is the first in a series of reports from the Languedoc region of southern France. Following three days in the Loire, I traveled south with a group of writers to the historic town of Pezenas, where we’ll will spend the next five days visiting vineyards and winegrowers throughout the Languedoc.
Until this trip, my experience with the Languedoc was largely limited to the wines of Mas de Daumas Gassac, Gerard Bertrand, Hecht et Bannier, and Paul Mas. Otherwise, I was under the misguided impression that most of the Languedoc was for bulk wine production.
The past few days have been a vinous revelation for me! Tasting dozens of wines and talking with winemakers, I’ve learned that the Languedoc is home to thoughtful winegrowers fiercely dedicated to making distinctive, fine wines.
Known as the `world’s largest vineyard,` the Languedoc is the largest wine region in France, with nearly 600,000 acres under vine (about 235,000 hectares). This acreage is spread across 36 distinct appellations. About 75% of production is red wines, followed by about 15% for rose and 10% white wines.
Another revelation is the number of vignerons here who are committed to organic farming. About one-third of all organic vineyards in France are located in the Languedoc and just under 10% of the world’s organic vineyard acreage (nearly 22,000 hectares, about 54,000 acres).
About 40% of all French wine exports are from the Languedoc and, for additional perspective on how important this region is, about 5% of the world’s is produced here. The United States represents the fifth largest market for the Languedoc in terms of volume of wine sold.
The following are just a few reasons to consider pairing a Languedoc wine with your dinner tonight:
My most important takeaway so far — from tasting dozens of wines and attending several master classes — is the serious quality and value the Languedoc offers. The quality and value of these wines really are amazing. Many world-class Languedoc wines are available in U.S. markets for under $20! Very few wine regions throughout the world offer as consistently good value across so many distinct regions and grape varieties. Just checkout Wine Searcher or Wine.com as an example of the fantastic values available.
Diversity of Wine Styles
From sparkling to still, sweet to fortified to bone dry, white to rosé to orange to red, blends to varietal wines; the Languedoc boasts an impressive range of wine styles. Add to this the range micro-climates and soil types, the diversity of the Languedoc is hard to match. There is also a wide range of varieties cultivated in the region: reds include Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenach, Carignan, Cinsault; white grape include Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Piquepoul, Roussanne, and the indigenous Mauzac. Most of these styles of Languedoc wines are available in most U.S. markets.
Oysters! (Or, Wine Perfect with Oysters)
Without a doubt, oysters are my favorite food. Much like wine, oysters express their place — called ‘merroir.’ The Languedoc (much like Muscadet in the Loire) offers exceptional wines that pair perfectly with oysters. The light, refreshing, zesty white wines of the Picpoul de Pinet AOC made from the Picpoul grape are one of the best pairings for oysters. The slogan of this appellation is “it’s terroir is the sea.” Very true! In searching the inventory of wine shops back in Virginia, wines from Picpoul de Pinet are widely available (often between $10 – $15). The stunningly delicious, crisp and fresh white blends (usually including Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Vermentino, Marsanne and Rousanne) of the La Clape AOC also provide a perfect pairing for oysters.
So far I’ve tasted some seriously delicious sparkling wines that easily rival those costing two or three times more. The range of styles is equally impressive. The Limoux region is largely defined by three different styles: Blanquette Methode Ancestrale, Blanquette de Limoux, and the more widely available Cremant de Limoux (they also produce still wines).
Known as the ‘world’s most ancient sparkling wine,’ monks at the Abbey of St. Hilaire produced what is thought to be the first sparkling wine (Blanquette Methode Ancestrale) in 1531. The abbey was visited by Dom Perignon, the man who is often credited as the first sparkling wine in Champagne, around 1668 or 1669. The historic, fresh and lively Saint-Hilaire sparkling wine is widely available at wine shops and grocery markets throughout the U.S. (for around $13).
Growing in the stony soils of the region, the indigenous Mauzac is the predominant grape, supported by Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. One distinctive characteristic of the sparkling wines of Limoux is the zippy pear acidity and saline core. Beautiful, delicious, and great values, too!
The climate, diversity of wine styles, wine quality and value make the Languedoc one of the most exciting regions in the wine world.
So far, this trip has served as a much needed first-hand education that one can only receive visiting the region. Stay tuned, several more dispatches to come…
Uni the Unicorn hanging out in Pezenas…