The LANGUEDOC-ROUSSILLON WINE REGION: Primer
The vineyards and AOCs of the Languedoc Roussillon include vast sub-regions like the Coteaux du Languedoc, Costières-de-Nîmes, Clairette de Bellegarde, Muscat de Lunel, Muscat de Mireval, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, Minervois, Cabardès, Côtes de la Maelpère, Corbières, Blanquette de Limoux, Fitou, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Maury, Côtes du Roussillon, Collioure, and Banyuls. But the area is really not far from the other notable wine areas bordering the Côtes de Provence and the areas just south of the Rhone Valley. It's an exciting region because quality continues to increase exponentially, while prices remain 'relatively' attractive.
If you think about the 6,000+ grape types that exist in the world, all different due to their:
taste: varying degrees of acidity and sugar, thus producing a diverse set of flavors;
color: grape skin can be white or colored, just like the pulp;
size: generally-speaking, fresh grapes for the table are larger and plumper than grapes used for wine-making.
And in each wine-growing region, winemakers look for the most "adapted" grape type, not forgetting that the economic and consumption factors that play a major role in vineyard selection. The French AOC, (origin-controlled wines) may be composed of one or several grape types; for example the the “Clairette du Languedoc” [sparkling white wine], may only contain the “Clairette” grape and is produced using the full Ancestral “Blanquette” Method, as mandated in the Mauzac region. And every region is different.
The France de Sud IGP, Southwest, and areas in and around Ventoux typically there has been a more relaxed approach to grape regulation versus the stringent AOC standards you would find in the Rhone Valley. This makes for a hotbed of vigneron experimentation and creativity in the area.
As such, the vineyards in the Languedoc have been substantially restructured over the past 30 years in order to encourage such Mediterranean grape types as Grenache, Mourvèdre or Syrah, the star of all new plantings. In addition, applied research has enabled enhanced adaptation of the traditional grape types and improved cultivation. Separate vinification of the grape types, in accordance with their ripening and expression have allowed wine-growers to concentrate on the 'assemblage' of juice - making this a masterful region for the cuvée or blend.
So with the new year, if you're looking for some delightful, medium-bodied red blends that aren't over-manipulated AND don't break the bank, you'll definitely want to explore the south of France!