Occitanie Formed: Wine with an Interesting History
Languedoc wines are renowned for their subtlety and complexity and are now regarded as some of the most fascinating and dynamic wines in the world.
The area produces lots of wine, exceeding production of Bordeaux, Australia, South Africa and Chile combined, representing about one-third of the French volume output that equals approximately three billion bottles of wine each year from 300,000 hectares of vine under cultivation. The largest consumers of these wines (2019) are Germany (16 percent), the USA (13 percent), the Netherlands (11 percent), the UK (10 percent), Belgium (10 percent), and China (8 percent) from 30 appellations and crus including white, red, rose, sparkling and sweet wines. The sector employs approximately 165,000 people and is the region’s largest employer, ahead of tourism and the aeronautics industry.
Merger Generates New Name
In 2014 regions of France were reorganized and the former areas of Midi-Pyrenees and Languedoc-Roussillon merged to create the Occitanie region. Following the merger, Occitanie became France’s largest vineyard in one continuous space in the entire world, including 263,000 hectares under vine, producing 33 percent of French wines. It encompasses 24,000 wine farms and 380 cooperatives with 36 percent of winegrowers focusing on organic farming.
The Languedoc makes up approximately 90 percent of the territory; Roussillon occupies the other 10 percent. Together they represent France’s largest wine-producing region and vineyard area and more than one in three French wines are produced here.
This is the birthplace of sparkling wines, although Champagne gets the credit.
The Occitanie wine region has 87 AOP (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) appellations and 36 PGI (Protected Geographical Indications) designations and winegrowers are able to independently determine whether (or not) they want to produce AOP or PGI wines.
First to Sparkle
In 1531, at the Abbaye de Saint Hilaire (Limoux), monks found that the wine they were making started to bubble in the bottle and the rest is history. It is likely that Dom Perignon visited the abbey before residing in Champagne and “borrowed” the idea of making sparkling wine and started the process in Champagne. The three sparkling appellations of the area include Cremant de Limoux, Blanquette de Limoux, and Limoux Methode ancestral. Thomas Jefferson is known to have loved the Limoux’s fizz and it was the only sparkling wine in the personal cellar of the president.
Sud de France
With the desire to highlight the accomplishments of the Occitanie region, in 2006, Sud de France was started as a way to increase the arrival of tourists to its locale and offers a quality guarantee. The branding was the idea of George Freche, president of the Regional Council (2004) who noticed that, in spite of the area’s numerous economic and cultural assets, it kept a very low profile and he was determined to change this situation. Through Sud de France all agri-food and wine products of the Languedoc-Roussillon region are promoted under a single umbrella for marketing purposes. The group is currently directed by Carole Delga and includes 1,817 companies representing 5,882 products.
French politician, Carole Delga, is a member of the Socialist Party (since 2004) and has served as the President of Occitanie since 2016. From 2012-2017 she was a member of the National Assembly and served on the Finance and Defense Committee. In 2014 she briefly served as Secretary of State for Trade, Crafts, Consumer and Social Economy and Solidarity under Minister of Finance and Public Account, Michel Sapin in the government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
Delga is noted for acknowledging the former Languedoc-Roussillon region during the creation of Occitanie (an area with 6 million citizens), not focusing on Toulouse and including local residents in her plans and programs.
Occitanie/Sud de France Strengths
The weather in the area is a plus for grape growing as the strong winds bring moisture from the sea and delivers fresh mountain air to dry the vines. The soil runs from clay-limestone (regulates soil temperature) to schist (slate) in Saint Chinian and to clay and chalk in Picpoul de Pinet.
The Languedoc-Roussillon offers 30+ Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) with Corbieres, Fitou, Minervois and Cotes de Roussillon most noted in the USA. The locale is also known for its Vin de Pays wines where flexible wine laws allow innovation and winemakers produce interesting, fruit forward wines, many with depth, concentration and the potential for ageing. Winemakers are also allowed to source grapes from vineyards throughout the region and, through the Sud de France branding, consumers are able identify and select wines that meet the price/quality equation. The label, Sud de France, currently includes over 11,000 products (of which 2,100 are organic), following 24 different sets of rules. All products are reviewed by an independent group with the goal of improving name recognition in foreign markets, and a geographical focus on Europe, China and the USA.
Near to Barcelona, Occitanie includes Languedoc-Roussillon and Mid-Pyrenees regions and noted by the charm of Montpellier, Toulouse and Perpignan offering the beauty of the South of France with fewer visitors than Paris and Provence. The locale presents beaches, vineyards, national parks and cultural sites, alongside hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. Because it is a notable wine producing zone and the birthplace of sparkling wine in the town of Limoux the wine/culinary adventure is superb especially in Collioure (anchovies) and Set (fish and oysters).
Roussillon Wine Thoughts
At a recent wine event in New York City, I had the good fortune to meander through a number of excellent wines from Roussillon. The following are a few of my favorites:
- Domaine Cabirau, AOP Cotes du Roussillon 2013. 70 percent Grenache Noir, 20 percent Syrah, 10 percent Carigan Noir.
President Dan Kravitz purchased 13.5 acres of vineyards in Roussillon (appellation of Cotes du Roussillon created in 1977), is in the village of Maury (French part of Catalonia) in 2007. Roussillon is known for the production of dry, red, white and rose wines. The area includes the eastern half of the Pyrenees Orientales (eastern side of the Pyrenees Mountains) and the lower sections of Roussillon.
The vineyard is 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean and 20 miles north of Spain. The name Cabirau was originally mapped over 100 years ago. The vines are planted on steep slopes of schist, dark sharp rock offering distinctive mineral identity to Grenache.
The soils are a mix of schist, limestone, gneiss and granite. Manually harvested from 25–60-year-old Grenache vines planted in schistous soils, and a mix of old vines and newly planted Syrah and Carignan. The Grenache is unoaked while the Syrah and Carignan experience malolactic fermentation and 5 months maturation in 500 I demi-muids (600-liter capacity oak barrels).
To the eye, deep garnet trending to pink. The nose is rewarded with the aroma of cherry pie, young strawberries, raspberries, blueberries – against a back drop of licorice, cloves, oak, cola, vanilla, wildflowers and spice (i.e., black pepper). The palate is rewarded with dry fruits and wet earth. Medium bodied with delicate acidity and soft/round tannins. Long finish enhanced by tannins. Pair with beef, pasta and veal.
- Domaine du Mas Blanc Collection, AOP Banyuls 1975. Grenache Noir, Grenache Gris.
Grapes are hand harvested and trodden by foot, fermented in stainless steel with native yeasts and aged in 650-liter oak demi-muids for 10 years.
The roots of Domaine du Mas Blanc can be tracked back to the mid-17th century, with a step to 20th century in 1921 when Dr. Gaston Parce started to bottle his wine and became the lead proponent of the Banyuls appellation (1936). His son, Dr. Andre Parce followed in his fathers’ footsteps and started the Collioure appellation (1971)
Banyuls is the finest and most complex of France’s fortified Vin Doux Naturels, a dark wine that captures the sea, sun and stone. Because of its proximity to the sea that tempers its basic strengths, the outcome is savory, smoky with hints to maritime origins.
Banyuls is the French response to Port Wine. It is sweet, strong and derived from Grenache harvested from the Domaine du Mas Blanc’s oldest Grenache vines.
Rusty garnet to the eye, with an aroma of port suggests burnt wood and sweet/spices to the nose. On the palate it is rich with cherries, nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon. Delivers a long chocolate mousse sweet/spicy finish. Pair with Blue cheese, Cured meats, Chocolates and Coffee, Vanilla and Caramel, Dried Fruit and Nuts.
This is a series focusing on Sud De France.
Read Part 1 Here: From Farmers to Protesters to Winemakers
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.