French wine fans have already committed certain AOCs to memory -- Bordeaux and Burgundy, Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Blaye. But have you ever heard of a little wine region called Languedoc-Roussillon?
Little only in renown -- and that not for much longer -- the Languedoc actually produces 1/3 of all of France's wine and 30 percent of of France's organic wine. At over 700,000 acres, the Languedoc-Roussillon is the single biggest wine producing region in the world. So why haven't we heard of it?
History of Wine Production in the Languedoc
The history of Languedoc is quite long and, for the most part, illustrious, thus adding to the confusion about why it's so unfamiliar. The region is ideally situated for wine production, near the Mediterranean Sea, so it's not surprising that vineyards have thrived here ever since the 5th century B.C., when they were planted along the coast by the Greeks.
The region was known for its high-quality wine for hundreds of years, that is, until the 19th century, when quality wines were overshadowed by cheap wines that were easy to produce. This made the Languedoc lose some of its luster, a problem that wasn't helped by the phylloxera epidemic that killed off many pieds de vigne, particularly those of higher caliber.
The Languedoc's renown for and ability to mass produce cheap wine made it the provider of the daily wine rations for French soldiers in both World Wars, but as people became more interested in quality wine and less interested in quantity for quantity's sake, the prolific Languedoc began operating with a surplus, producing far more wine than it could sell.
While many winemakers in the region suffered due to this, it also created the ideal environment for young winemakers to experiment, notably with single-varietal wines that are popular Stateside as well as organic, biodynamic and non-GMO winemaking. Since 1991, the region has been the leader in the production of organic wines in France, with 1199 organic producers in 2011.
Getting to Know Languedoc Wines
But even with the long history of Languedoc wines, there's no need to feel sheepish if you haven't heard of them. After all, in the Ile de France region around Paris, only 7 percent of bottles sold are from this region--even the French have hardly heard of them!
That's why the Printemps du Languedoc (Languedoc Spring) event has been taking place in the capital for the past few years. 2015 has enjoyed record participation, with over 700 participating restaurants, 50 wine sellers (of 600 nation-wide), and the Repaire de Bacchus wine chain getting involved to raise awareness about these wines.
Since the beginning of the event, Languedoc sales have increased exponentially in France; in 2005, less than one third of French restaurants offered Languedoc wines on the menu; today, more than half do.
Sophie Surroque, a wine seller in Paris who specializes in Languedoc wines all year long, loves teaching people about the region and its wines, with their earthy minerality and intriguing flavors. One of her favorites is a 10-year aged amber Rivesaltes from Arnaud de Villeneuve combining Grenache blanc, Grenache gris and Maccabéu, a grape that's very specific to the region. Sweet whites like these have been perfected in the Languedoc and are excellent for pairing with desserts, thanks to a balance between strong, long-lasting flavors and aromas and a rich yet not cloying sweetness.
Where to Find Organic Languedoc Wines
Luckily for us Stateside who want to get in on these often sustainable bottles, Languedoc AOP wine imports to the U.S. are on the up and up, with a 155 percent increase since 2009. This is perhaps the best time to get on the Languedoc boat, considering the fact that 2013 was a good year for Languedoc, as opposed to many other regions which suffered poor weather.
Of course, with a wine region so vast, it can be daunting to figure out how to buy Languedoc. For that, we suggest talking to your local wine seller for suggestions or consulting a guide to the intricacies of the Languedoc wine-growing region.
If you want to sample Languedoc wines at home but don't have a vendor near you, you can always order Languedoc wines online. Or if you'd rather, try visiting the Languedoc to appreciate its beauty and its wine first-hand!
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Wine image via Shutterstock: Africa Studio