With the holiday season upon us, many of you may be heading to the south of France for a well-earned break in the sun. While there, ensure that not only do you enjoy the wonderful cuisine but also that you explore the range of red wine produced in the regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence. Avoid the supermarkets and take the advice of restaurants, caves and specialist wine shops and drop in to some wine estates – anywhere that has a sign saying “degustation” offers wine tastings.
Languedoc-Roussillon, which stretches from the border with Spain in the south west to the Rhone Delta in the north east, is the world’s most extensive grape-growing region. It provides more than a quarter of France’s total wine production and almost 90 per cent of the wines produced are red.
The Provence region continues east along the coast to the glamorous cities of Cannes and Nice, taking in some of France’s most famous and popular holiday destinations. However, it is not just the modern day tourists who have a taste for Provencal wine – Provence is France’s oldest wine producing region with the first vines planted in 600BC by the Phoenicians.
The climate along the south coast of France is generally hot and sunny in the summer and red wine grapes do well. However, it is only in recent years that the region has started to gain a reputation for the quality of its red wine. In the past red wine was produced in bulk by co-operatives with very little of the wine sold under the appellation controlee label. Thanks to innovative producers and EU subsidies the red wine industry has been turned around so that today the grape varieties, the wine making process and the AOC and Vin de Pays classification system have all been modernised with the result that the region is producing some of the most interesting and exciting red wine in France.
Languedoc-Roussillon can be a difficult region to get to grips with. Less than half the region’s red wine is produced as appellation controlee and often even the AOC classifications give little clue to the actual quality of the wine. In many cases it is better to seek out the plentiful Vin de Pays reds as these are the wines which benefit from fewer restrictions so enjoy greater experimentation amongst wine makers.
The Languedoc-Roussillon red wine appellations include Corbieres; Minervois; Fitou; Costieres de Nimes; Faugeres; Coteaux de Languedoc and Roussillon, which itself includes Cotes du Roussillon and Cotes du Roussillon-Villages. Historically, the dominant red wine grape has been Carignan, which can often produce dull wines, but rules are gradually being tweaked to allow a greater proportion of grapes such as Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. Most of the red wines are full-bodied, dry and spicy. If you enjoy fortified red wine then some wonderful examples are produced in the Banyuls and Maury appellations.
At the same time many producers are taking advantage of the Vin de Pays classification to produce varietal red wines using international grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Vin de Pays d’Oc covers the whole Languedoc-Roussillon region and was introduced to provide a regional identity. Most of the region’s varietal reds come under this classification although, in typical French fashion, there are a number of departmental and zonal Vin de Pays too. The only problem here and this is also true of the appellation controlee reds, is that the classification is no indication of quality and trial and error may be the only route to finding which wines are worth buying.
If you’re heading to Provence for a holiday you may be dreaming of sitting outside a sea front café or bar sipping a glass of chilled rosé wine. Provence is famous for its rosé wines but in reality many of them are uninspiring and dull. Instead, you should seek out some bottles of the wonderful full-bodied red wine produced in areas such Bandol and Palette.
Dedicated producers are using a wide range of red wine grapes which are suited to Provence’s dry and hot climate. Most Provence reds are made from a blend of grapes including Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. The resulting wines are generally big, fruity and spicy and in most cases will benefit from aging.
Bandol is one of the appellations to look out for. Red wines produced here have been popular since the 16th century. The vines grow in a natural amphitheatre which provides sun trap conditions and the resulting wine, which is made largely from the Mourvedre grape, is intense and spicy.
Palette is a tiny appellation with just two producers but its red wines are worth tracking down. The list of permitted grapes is long and includes Grenache and Mourvedre and the wines are rich and long lasting.
Image of vines in Provence by ExperienceLA.