One of the things that makes the wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon so special is the tremendous number of grape varieties grown in the region. The geography of the region is so varied, from Mediterranean sandy soils to iron rich clay soils to mountain shales, and each grape has it's favorite terrior. The varied geography gives rise to many different wine appellations, which can be thought of as official wine districts. The rules of each of the many different appellations in the Languedoc-Roussillon region are different and the system sanctioned and monitored by government departments is quite complex. In order for a producer to put the "highest designation", AOP or AOC, on his or her wine they must follow rules about grape yield, winemaking techniques and many other factors, but chief among them is the grape varieties that can be included in the wine and in what proportion they are blended. Our page Appellations describes the AOP, AOC and IGP designations. A good reference website is: www.languedoc-aoc.com.A general summary of the grape varieties follows:
Red: For AOP wines the principal red grapes are: grenache noir, syrah, mourvèdre, carignan and cinsault. In recent years, the following grapes have been added: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and pinot noir. For IGP, all of the above are allowed plus many others depending on the appellation including tempranillo, carménère and sangiovese.
White: For AOP there are many allowed grapes. The main ones are: grenache blanc, grenache gris, bourboulenc, clairette, muscat, rolle (vermentino), marsanne, roussane, maccabeu, piquepoul blanc, muscat á petits grains blanc, mauzac, chardonnay and chenin blanc. IGP includes the foregoing grapes plus pinot gris, reisling, sauvignon blanc, sauvignon gris, sylvaner, chardonnay, trebbiano and some lesser known grapes such as colombard and petit manseng.
Rosé: The AOC grapes include cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, cinsault, carignan, clairette rosé, côt (malbec), grenache gris, grenache noir and merlot. IGP includes, among others, carmenère, gamay noir, marselan and gewürztraminer rosè.
Sparkling Wines (Blanquette de Limoux méthode ancestrale, Blanquette de Limoux méthode traditionelle, and Crémant de Limoux): the grapes allowed are mauzac, chenin blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. Little-known fact: sparkling wines were first developed in the Languedoc, not in Champagne!
The Languedoc-Roussillon wine region is undergoing significant transformation so the rules regarding grape varieties are sure to change over time.
Each of the grape varieties gives its special qualities to the wine. Also, each grape gives different fruit depending on the soil, elevation and sun exposure of the vineyard. Because the soil types and elevation changes are so dramatic in the Languedoc, the charms of each grape and blend are endless. Some of the more important and classic grapes and their characteristics follow as described by our great friend and fabulous Languedoc sommelier Marcel Van Baalen.
The KING of the Languedoc wines. This variety, originally a Spanish varietal, was planted in the Languedoc more than 100 years ago. Carignan had a bad reputation for being tannic, acidic and astringent. This was mainly because is was used for high yields. With low yields it gives generous fruit (black cherry, violets) with grippy tannins and some ‘leather’ tone like horse saddle and cowboy boots, something Princess really loves! The best wines come from old vines — 100 year old vines which you can still find in good production here in the Languedoc!
In addition to red Carignan, there is also a very rare, white version of this grape which gives lovely light, fruity wines with great freshness. Some of the wines Princess and Bear have chosen have the rare white Carignan! Even more rare is the Carignan gris, a grey Carignan from which fabulous wines are made. There are only a few hectares left of this grape in the world.
Like many varieties, Grenache comes with different coloured skins. With Grenache there is a white skinned grape, and pink (or grey) and the classic red.
Grenache Noir gives soft and round fruit (blackberry, blueberry, cherry) and is usually very elegant with aromas of dried herbs and blood orange. It is low in tannins and likes to be blended. In the Languedoc, it’s also a favorite for rosé wines!
Grenache Blanc is green and floral with aromas like freshly cut green grass and fennel. Grown on altitude it gives nice freshness and acidity.
Grenache Gris is a favorite for many Languedoc winemakers. Lots of fruity aromas, can be big and powerful in the mouth, with a nice, crispy aftertaste. Yummy!
Another Spanish grape (Monastrell) landed here around the Mediterranean shore. Deep red fruits (blackberry) with interesting notes of cocoa, black pepper and tobacco. This grape ripens late so these grapes need lots of time on the vine. Full-bodied with dry tannins, this is usually a grape to put into a blend. Perfect for rosé when picked early in the season! Many of our favorite wines have Mourvèdre in the blend.
A rich, spicy varietal that originated in the Rhône Valley. Syrah grows perfectly here in the Languedoc and is regarded as one of the best for this region. Perfect on its own, but works best in blends to give more complexity. With aromas like blueberry and black plum, and in some terroirs also milk chocolate and green peppercorn and tobacco, this is an interesting grape in a blend. Syrah has good, fresh acidity, and is another good rosé grape!
French for “The Red”. Although this is a white grape, it has a ginger skin. This variety also came down from the Rhône Valley. It gives interesting, full-bodied white wines aromas like lemon, apricot and bees' wax. It is usually blended with Marsanne or Grenache but is also fine on its own. It adds complexity and delicious flavors to any blend.
Another Rhône Valley grape which does very well in this Mediterranean climate! You can find hints of quince, apricot and acacia here, and it works perfectly in blends with Roussanne and Grenache. Medium low in acidity, this is a perfect wine-with-food grape. Think cheeses and white fish.
Viognier is a very popular grape varietal that used to be co-planted with Syrah in the Northern Rhône to give the red wines a bit of freshness and acidity. It gives wines an almost oily, rich taste, and aromas like peach, mango, honeysuckle, white flowers (blossoms) and roses. It is medium bodied and low in acidity so sometimes best in blends.
One of the oldest white grape varietals in France and gives “lip stinging” freshness and acidity, which goes so well with seafood and shellfish. A perfect wine for oysters! Green apple, lemon, lime and citrus blossom are words to use here. Very light and crisp wines; perfect for lunch. There is also Picpoul Gris and Picpoul Noir! Did you know that?
Another very old varietal planted by the Greeks and mostly found around the Narbonne area. It’s a late ripening grape so often it's very hard for winemakers to pick another white grape after all the reds are harvested! Rich in colour and taste, it usually ends up in a blend.
Macabeau is a Catalunya grape well used in their local sparkling wine, called Cava. Also planted in the Languedoc, it gives zesty, fresh wines, lean with a good acidity.
Like Carignan, this is a true Mediterranean grape. Vermentino could well be the white version! Fully adapted to the dry climate and the sun, this grape delivers refreshing grapefruit, lemon and lime aromas, and gives many white wines a great zing!
We have the Romans to thank for planting their grapes in this lush landscape! There are actually 2 types: Muscat d’Alexandrie and Muscat à Petit Grain, the latter being the best for this region. It can deliver bone dry wines with lots of aroma, but also ultra sweet to match fruity desserts. One of the best sweet Muscats in the Languedoc comes from a little town close to Minerve called Saint Jean de Minervois. The local Muscat there gives aromas like roses, white pear and mandarin peel. Irresistible! Usually fortified, it keeps its natural sweetness from the fruit and together with a good acidity it is perfectly balanced.