Languedoc-Roussillon: wine identity under construction

When you order a glass or open a bottle of wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region, what should you expect from the drinking experience?

That’s a question I’m still trying to answer, following a whirlwind trip through the region. I’m having trouble summarizing the qualities of the various local wines—whites, rosés and reds—I sampled there.

38 - Domaine Ollier Taillefer Allegro

In general, they seemed good values. Purchasing locally, you can pay as little as €5 to €8 a bottle for decent everyday-drinking wines; the highest price we paid (it was in a restaurant) was €23 for a half-bottle of Domaine Ollier Taillefer “Allegro” 2011, a nice white from Faugères. (BTW, another “in general” rule for the region is: stay away from its whites. And I agree, in general, because the Rousanne-Marsanne blends that are common here are not acidic and crisp the way I prefer my whites. In this case, however, the Allegro—a Rolle (aka Vermentino)-Roussanne blend—had enough minerality to satisfy my palate.)

Another sweeping statement you can safely make about these wines is they rely on grapes that do well in warmer climates; not a Pinot Noir vine in sight.

Beyond that, thanks to a diversity of vineyard altitudes and microclimates, grape varietals and blend combinations, and levels of quality, the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon—one of France’s 27 regions and a southernmost one—need more finely-grained parsing to try to figure them out.

Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson do just that: in their World Atlas of Wine they subdivide the region into thirds: western and eastern Languedoc and Roussillon. A bit of shorthand to help in understanding the wines from these sub-regions:

Eastern Languedoc – appellations include (but are not limited to) Faugères, Coteaux de Languedoc, Costières de Nîmes; mostly reds, may remind you of southern Rhône or Provençal reds; grapes include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre.

Western Languedoc – among its appellations, Corbières, Minervois, Limoux, Fitou; reds from the northern part can be Bordeaux-like while those made farther south (e.g., Corbières) are typically rougher; varietals grown include Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and now even Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Roussillon – primary appellations Côtes du Roussillon and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages; Carignan the traditional red grape here but Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault now common as well; some decent whites made here, from grape varieties including Malvoisie, Maccabeu, Roussanne, Marsanne and Rolle; also known for its sweet wines, Vins Doux Naturels (VDNs), including Muscat.

I’ll have more to say about the Languedoc-Roussillon wines I drank there and what I thought about them; stay tuned.