As suggested by the double-barreled name, Languedoc-Roussillon was once two independent regions – Languedoc and Roussillon. Although the worlds of wine politics and commerce have enduringly grouped the two together, geography and culture separate them; Languedoc is quintessentially French in character, whereas the strong influences of Spanish and Catalan culture are clear across Roussillon. While Languedoc’s vineyards are mostly located on coastal plains, those of Roussillon are either perched on cliff tops or nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees. However, the two regions have been treated as a single unit so often – and for such a significant period of wine history – that it is now difficult to divide them.
About a quarter of all the wine-producing vines in France are located in Languedoc-Roussillon, contributing to such diverse wines as the sparkling Mauzac-based Blanquette de Limoux, the rich, sweet red wines of Banyuls, and the rosés of the Cotes du Roussillon.
Soil types and terroir vary across the region as much as the topography, making it hard to collectively describe them. A large proportion of the land here is garrigue (the quintessential southern French landscape of dry, low-lying scrubland on limestone soils), but there are also areas of slightly higher-altitude terrain in the far south and around the Montagne Noire in the north. Overall, it is a hot, dry region, with a definitively Mediterranean climate.
Languedoc-Roussillon is showing significant progress in the quality of its wines. With keenly priced competition from countries like Australia and Chile, the rustic style of the region’s traditional wines was not sufficient to ensure continued commercial success. Emerging styles, innovative producers and revived viticultural areas are now introducing fresh life. This is demonstrated by the rapid investment, diversification and improvement in the wines of Maury in northern Roussillon; the development of more-modern wine styles such as Cremant de Limoux; and the inclusion of rose and white wines in theCollioure appellation. Perhaps most significant of all, is the new Languedoc title – introduced in 2007 to provide a consistent quality appellation for the entire Languedoc-Roussillon region.
The arrival of railways in southern France (in the 19th Century) was a dramatic boost for the local wine industry, and led to significant changes at a national level. Historically, the transportation of wine had been limited almost entirely to water-borne means, giving regions like Bordeaux and the Loire Valley a significant advantage over the southern regions, which lacked an efficient connection with key markets in northern France, Britain, The Netherlands and Germany. Even with the Canal du Midi connecting Montpellier to Toulouse (and ultimately to Bordeaux via the Canal de Garonne), shipping wine northwards (effectively ‘uphill’) was a slow and impractical process. As soon as the vineyards of Languedoc and Roussillon were connected by rail, the demand for their affordable, large-volume wines rose dramatically. It was this industrial development which marked the beginning of the Languedoc’s story as a successful wine region.
Courtesy of Wine-Searcher magazine