Languedoc Wines - an overview

By: Mike Bowditch

The Aude is the cradle of winemaking in theLanguedoc. Vines were first planted near Narbonne by the Romans in 118 AD andviticulture flourished in the expanding Roman colony. Today the vine is by themost important crop in the Aude and it influences not only the landscape butalso the economics and politics of the region. The region contains Languedocwines under the following AOC’s: Minervois,Corbieres,Fitou, LaClape,Cabardes,Malpere and Limoux.

Although co-operatives still dominateproduction, there are many excellent private producers. Some of them are longestablished but many come from families who have been grape growers forgenerations but have only recently decided to ‘go it alone’ and make their ownwine. The younger generation of winemakers have often gone to wine school andbroadened their knowledge further by working elsewhere and have brought hometheir expertise and fresh ideas. Other wine producers have come from otherparts of France or abroad, attracted by the extraordinary beauty of the regionand its potential to make great wine. All these producers share a common goal –to make good wine and express the unique terroir for Languedoc wines.

Vine varieties are similar to thosethroughout the Mediterranean south. Carignan and Grenache are the most widelygrown but Syrah and Mouvedre are increasingly planted, the latter performingwell near the coast. Cinsault is also popular for rosé wine as well as formingpart of the blend for many reds. Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and Malbec make vinde pays wines throughout the Aude and are permitted in the appellationssurrounding Carcassonne. White wines are a minority but can be excellent andare made from Grenache Blanc, marsanne, roussanne and bourboulenc andvermentino while Vin de Pays whites are made from all the main internationalvarieties chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, voignier.

The varied topography and climate in theAude has given rise to a huge diversity of wine styles, from stylish sparklingwine from Limoux to brooding, spicy reds from Corbières and Fitou. Nearest thecoast is the unfortuntately named but beautiful La Clape massif which separatesNarbonne from the Mediterranean. This is the driest wine region in theLanguedoc and so the vineyards are naturally low yielding and the sea breezes andaltitude combine to give the wines a freshness and a fine structure which setsthem apart. The wines are designated Coteaux du Languedoc and producers of noteare Chateau la Roquette, Domaine Pech-Redon, Chateau de la Negly and theimpressive Domaine L’Hospitalet in La Clape.

The most extensive and varied wine region inthe Aude is the Corbières which stretches all the way from the coastal plain byNarbonne to the Mont d’ Alaric, overlooking Carcassonne and south to Mont Tauchand the foothills of the Pyrenèes. The wine legislators have officially dividedthis vast region into 11 different sub-regions to reflect the diversity ofterroir. Corbières wines comes in all colours but is predominantly red andstyles vary from fruity, rustic wines from based on Carignan for? everyday drinking to deep flavoured,herby wines of real class and ageing potential. There are over 400 producers inCorbières. Voulte Gasparets, Mansenoble, Domaine de Lastours, Domaine de GrandGres are just a few of many worth mentioning and the Cooperative at Castelmaureis the best co-op in the Languedoc.

Nestled in 2 distinct areas in the south ofCorbières, is Fitou which has the distinction of being the first table wineregion in the Languedoc to be awarded an appellation in 1948. The terrain hereis rugged and mountainous and the wines almost exclusively red, made fromCarignan and Grenache with some Syrah and Mourvedre. The wines are warm, spicyand herby with the Mount Tauch co-operative and Domaine Bertrand-Bergéparticularly good producers.

Moving from Narbonne towards Carcassonne,the climate changes with the Atlantic influences becoming increasinglypredominant. The dynamic appellation of Cabardès, north of Carcassonne,illustrates this climatic shift. The wines have to made from a blend of‘atlantic’ (ie Bordeaux) varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, franc, merlotand malbec with Mediterranean varieties, the usual suspects Grenache, Syrah,Carignan and Mourvedre. The wines combine the blackcurranty fruitiness andelegance of Bordeaux with the spice and breadth of the Mediterranean.Pennautier makes very polished Cabardès but Domaine Cabrol, Domaine O andDomaine Jouclary are also making waves. Cotes de La Malpere is similar toCabardès in that it is a cocktail of Atlantic and Mediterranean grapes with thedifference that Bordeaux varieties predominate and Carignan is forbidden. TheCo-operative of Razes dominates production but a few small produces arestarting to make their mark.

Limoux is cool climate Languedoc and isjustly famous for its sparkling wines which it has been making for 100s ofyears. Indeed locals claim the ‘champagne’ was invented in Limoux, well beforeDom Perignon worked out how to get bubbles to stay in wine. Blanquette deLimoux in the traditional fizz and is made from the Mauzac grape withchardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Cremant de Limoux is a slightly more modern styleand is largely with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay with a dash of Pinot Noir.Another local speciality is methode ancestrale which is slightly sweet andfizzy made exclusively from Mauzac. Limoux is also well known for its stillwines made from Chardonnay, cleverly promoted by an annual auction ‘toques etclochers’ where top chefs encourage the bidding for barrels of chardonnay.

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