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The Wine Expert’s guide to the Languedoc

Grape pickers in a vineyard in Languedoc

Situated on the south coast of France, Languedoc is one of the biggest wine producing regions in the world. Annual production is the equivalent of 1.8 billion bottles. That’s around 30% of the output of wine produced in France, and more than the whole of Australia’s production. Wine has been grown here since the 5th century BC when the Greeks introduced vines to the area.

The wily Romans expanded production, knowing a good thing when they drank it. It was also their practice to plant vines as they expanded throughout France – they mixed wine with water because the alcohol kills microorganisms, which helped to keep the army strong and healthy. The prolific production of wine here doesn’t mean lower quality wines. If you’ve not tried Languedoc wine then you really are in for a treat, and if you have, then you’re probably a fan already.

The wines of Languedoc

In terms of quality, Languedoc’s wines are considered to be among the best in the world, especially for their red (around 60%) and rosé (around 19% and more than the whole of Provence) wines. However, quality white, sweet and sparkling wines are on the rise. Languedoc boasts varieties such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne and more! And the area is the largest producer or organic wines in France.

Many of the wineries are small family holdings that date back generations and that handing down of knowledge is part of what makes these wines so very special. Fermenting different grape varieties separately – plus the art of then assembling them – and growing methods, shape Languedoc AOCs, producing structured, full-bodied wines.

Among the 23 Languedoc appellations that unfurl across 40,000 hectares of vineyards, no two wines are alike. The only common denominator since Antiquity is the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is to thank for the mild, bright winters, the russet of hot, dry summers, the fragrance of scrubland and the winds carrying the sea air.

Saint-Chinian wines

Nestled in the heart of the region of Languedoc-Roussillon the wine appellation Saint-Chinian (AOC Saint Chinian) is one of the best areas for wine. Spread across some 3,300 hectares, it’s home to 450 wine producers including 110 wineries and 8 cooperatives. There are rich pickings here for the wine connoisseur, with an abundance of different grapes, blends and processes. Historically producing red and rosés but more recently producing classified whites too. Whether you’re a serious and informed wine drinker or just an enthusiast starting out on your wine journey – the wines of Saint-Chinian are really pretty much unbeatable.

A historic area with long summers

And what about the area? Languedoc takes in the Roman town of Nîmes, with hints of the Camargue and the Cévennes. The arty city of Montpellier with its historical heritage and Béziers, a town that has endured 27 centuries of history peppered with periods of prosperity, revolt and massacre. Narbonne, described as a little Rome, and unforgettable Carcassonne, boasting the biggest medieval fortress-town in Europe.

It can get very hot here in the summer months. Autumns and springs are mild, although morning frosts are sometime seen into the month of April. Winters are mild and sunny with temperatures barely dipping below 0°C. Rainfall levels are low (among the lowest in France in some communes). The Tramontane wind is omnipresent, drying the vines and warding off disease. It is an ideal climate for growing vines. But the Mediterranean’s grasp is reduced in the far west of the region. In the appellations of Cabardès and Malepère in particular, the climate is transitional: the mild Atlantic meets the intense Mediterranean.

The terroir of Languedoc

And the terroir (that impossible to translate French word which refers to the soil and growing conditions) differs vastly across the region, depending on ancient geological formations. In some parts terraces of smooth pebbles, sandstone and marl. In others you’ll find limestone and shale, clay soil, pudding stone, sandy soil, molasse, etc. It gives wines grown here unique qualities and a whole range of very different tastes. There are countless aromatic variations – sometimes even within the same appellation. The soils play a very important role because they dictate what grape varietal is grown. Grapes are very picky about heat and water retention. They have very demanding preferences on what kind of soil type they like best! And because of the large array of soil types, Languedoc-Roussillon can offer many different wines to please every sipper.

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