Monday, 13 July 2009

The Parameters - appellations - grape varieties

What do we mean by the Languedoc? It is an all-embracing term used to describe the largest vineyard area of France, which stretches from the Spanish border and the foothills of the Pyrenees, all the way around the Mediterranean to the estuary of the Rhône. Sometimes it is called Languedoc-Roussillon. Roussillon, which equates to the department of the Pyrénées-Orientales, was part of the Spanish region of Catalonia until the treaty of the Pyrenees returned it to France in 1659. In some ways it is quite distinctive from the Languedoc, which traditionally encompasses the departments of the Aude, Hérault and Gard. Modern French bureaucracy also lumps the department of the Lozère into the Languedoc, but this is not a wine-producing department of any note and quite different in traditions, culture and climate. Another all-embracing term used to described the region is the Midi, and in wine terms this tend to mean Languedoc-Roussillon rather than Provence and the Côte d’Azur. However, the regional organisations are currently concentrating their marketing and promotional efforts on the term Le Sud de France or The South of France. Of course, to Anglophone ears this expression more readily conveys the Côte d’Azur, the smart jet-setting aspect of the south of France, rather than what one English friend in our village referred to as ‘the real south of France’. For a start the Languedoc is further south than Nice, and to those of us, who think of it as our own special corner of France, it is more authentically southern, wilder, less populated and built-up, with dramatic countryside, and a pace of life of its own.

THE RED APPELLATIONS
Côtes du Roussillon
Côtes du Roussillon Villages – with the addition of the villages of Tautavel, Latour de France, Caramany and Lesquerde
Collioure
Corbières
Minervois
Malepère
Cabardès
Limoux
Languedoc – a new AC which will eventually supersede the Coteaux du Languedoc. Look upon it as the base of the pyramid.
Coteaux du Languedoc –with numerous sub-zones, namely
La Clape
Quatourze
St. Chinian
Faugères
Pézenas
Cabrières
Terrasses du Larzac
St. Saturnin
Montpeyroux
Pic St. Loup
Grès de Montpellier
St. Georges d’Orques
Méjanelle
St. Drézery
St. Christol
Terres de Sommières
Costières de Nîmes
Clairette de Bellegarde

WHITE APPELLATIONS
Most but not all of the above red appellations produce white wine too. There is no white Côtes du Roussillon Villages, nor Collioure. St. Chinian and Faugères are recently created white appellations. The white wines, without a parallel red wine, are Picpoul de Pinet, which is part of the Coteaux du Languedoc, and Clairette du Languedoc and Clairette de Bellegarde.
Limoux blanc came before Limoux rouge, but Limoux is much better known for its sparkling wine, Crémant de Limoux, based on Mauzac and increasingly Chardonnay, Chenin blanc and even Pinot Noir.

FORTIFIED WINE or VIN DOUX NATUREL
Banyuls
Maury
Rivesaltes
Muscat de Rivesaltes
Muscat de St. Jean-de-Minervois
Muscat de Frontignan
Muscat de Lunel
Muscat de Mireval

VINS DE PAYS are as important as the appellations. Vin de Pays d’Oc is the largest. Next come the departmental vins de pays, namely Pyrénées Orientales, Aude, Hérault and Gard and then there are numerous local vins de pays, some much important than others. Look out for Côtes de Thongue in the Hérault and Côtes Catalanes in Roussillon amongst others.

THE GRAPE VARIETIES
For red and rosé appellations, the key grape varieties are Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre. In the bad old days, the Midi was largely planted with high yielding Aramon and Alicante Bouschet. Carignan was also much decried. Then plantings of the so-called cépages améliorateurs were encouraged, namely of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache Noir. Syrah now dominates many of the appellations, while Mourvèdre performs well nearer the coast. Grenache Noir is particularly found in the vineyards of Roussillon. Meanwhile there has been something of a revival of interest in Carignan, with a new realisation of its qualities, particularly from old vines, either as part of an appellation or as a varietal vin de pays. Cinsaut is particularly favoured for rosé, but also has its place amongst the red wines. Essentially the appellations of the Languedoc are blends, with the various permutations depending on the wine grower’s preference. Some may admit to almost a pure varietal – of Syrah in particular – though in theory there should be a drop of something else. Ultimately it depends on what you have in your vineyard, and if there is more than just Syrah in the vineyard, no one is going to ask any questions.
The so-called international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and also white varieties such as Sauvignon and Chardonnay must not feature in the appellations, only in vins de pays, most significantly in Vins de Pays d’Oc, the vin de pays that covers the entire region, and concentrates on varietal wines, as France’s riposte to the competition from the New World.
The composition of white wines has also improved dramatically, as have vinification methods, with the introduction of temperature controlled fermentations have a vital impact on quality. Where once varieties like Bourboulenc, Macabeo and Ugni Blanc were the order of the day, nowadays Marsanne, Roussanne and Rolle or Vermentino also contribute to the white appellations. There is also a new realisation of the quality yof varieties like Grenache Blanc and Gris, and also Carignan blanc. Viognier too is growing in importance, but for vins de pays, rather than as part of an appellation, in which the flavours would be too intrusive. And amongst the vins de pays, you may also Chenin Blanc and dry Muscat.
Muscat is important for sweet Vin Doux Naturel, or VDN, a fortified wine that retains the fresh sweetness of the grape. These are produced throughout the Midi, in the appellations of Muscat de Rivesaltes, Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Mireval and Muscat de Lunel. The red VDN, namely Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes are made principally from Grenache Noir.

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