Tennessean Wine Column, May, 2017

Pezenas, in the heart of Languedoc
Languedoc, South of France
Limoux appelation in Languedoc
Chardonnay Vineyard, Limoux, France

On a recent trip to France, I fell in love with what might be called the Cinderella of French wine regions–Languedoc. While other areas such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and Rhone get a lot of attention and glory, Languedoc has done the heavy lifting—producing fully a third of France’s wine.

Languedoc sprawls across the south of France from Spain in the West to Provence in the East, and bellies-up against the Mediterranean on the South. Arguably, France’s oldest wine region, ancient Greeks and Romans planted vineyards in Lnaguedoc and its wines came to be prized by kings and queens, princes, and popes.

So if Languedoc has been so consequential to French wine, why has it been so late in gaining our attention on this side of the pond? (And it has been getting our attention–with about a two hundred percent increase in imports over the last five years.) The answer lies buried in history.

With the industrialization of Europe in the late 19th century and the rise of a middle class, demand for wine increased enormously. And because of the ideal growing conditions in Languedoc, growers ramped up production to cope with demand—essentially trading quality for quantity by shifting over to making bulk wine (vin de table). Nice for the thirsty masses in Paris but not so much for Languedoc’s historic reputation for great wine.

A hundred years later times have changed—and with it, peoples’ tastes. The public began to expect more than generic plonk from big coops, and that expectation opened the door for small growers to start making their own wines—wines with tradition and quality. A sort of wine renaissance came over Languedoc, and today it is a treasure chest of regional varietals produced in authentic style.

Red varietals like grenache, syrah, mourvedre, cinsault, and carignan dominate and they are generally blended in some combination. The same reds are used to produce roses. France produces about a quarter of the world’s rose. Languedoc accounts for a third of that.

Whites include grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne, piquepoul, and vermentino. The crisp acidity of many Languedoc whites make them ideal matches for the wonderful local seafood—especially the oysters and mussels lining the nearby coast. And as for sparkling wines, Languedoc was making bubbly a hundred years before the monks in Champagne—Mon Dieu!

Languedoc is still a Cinderella appellation—but today she has transformed herself into the belle of the ball.

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