Again, I didn’t come across any actual short answer practice questions during my tutoring specifically covering the South of France. So, like I did with the Loire Valley, I’m going to compile a few multiple choice questions and turn them into short answer questions to help me deep dive into the South of France. Who wants to play?
Before I get into the quizzy-craziness, a little background information about what the South of France refers to. The regions spans along the Mediterranean coast from just about Italy (east side) to Spain-ish (west side). The area can be thought of as two or three broad areas: Languedoc and Roussillon (which are often lumped together as in the map above) on the west side and Provence on the east-most side. Overall, the South of France has a warm Mediterranean climate—so no issues with frost or fungus, although summer temperatures can get as high as 30° C (86° F) and there is low average annual rainfall, so drought can be an issue in some vintages. The good news is that the area does get cooling breezes coming out of the Rhone Valley—that’s right, the mistral makes its way this far south (though admittedly less fierce in these parts) as does the tramontane that blows between the Massif Central and the Pyranees mountains.
That being said, the South of France as a whole has a very varied terrain, ranging from those coastal areas through to the foothills of those inland mountains—and the soils vary accordingly.
Alright, now down to the Q&A…
1) Which is the regional IGP that covers the entire Languedoc-Roussillon area?
The local IGP is Pays d’Oc, which covers wines that are made from grapes sourced throughout the Languedoc and/or Roussillon regions. I was recently listening to a podcast in which a vintner from the South of France said that the reason that wines labeled, what we might assume to be ‘simply,’ as an IGP is because of that great terroir diversity mentioned above. Indeed, the separate AOCs do have rules and regulations about what grapes can be grown (as well as yield restrictions), so winemakers who want the ability to blend or use grapes that are “not native” to their region often opt for IGP status. And that is not a lower status by any means. Just more of a stylistic preference, if you will.
And this leads into the next question…
2) What are the major appellations of Languedoc and Roussillon?
So let’s start from the ground and work our way up. Languedoc is the generic appellation that covers all vineyards in the Languedoc area. When looking at a label, some of the “best” sub-regions do add their names to the label alongside the Languedoc AC name.
Moving up, there are more geographically specific appellations such as Cote du Roussillon and Minervois—and these guys will have their own rules/regulations regarding grape growing and winemaking. (There’s a footnote here that states that some of these appellations contain sub-appellations. And one thing to note, perhaps even a FUN FACT: Is that the Languedoc appellation system is continuing to evolve. It is my assessment that, given the success of the IGP wine status, it’s taken time for winemakers to home in on how to express a single region, appellation, sub-appellation, vineyard, etc etc. Thoughts on that anyone?)
I’ve realized at this point that I’ve rambled on a bit and not quite answered the question. So, here goes…
- Cotes du Roussillon – known for its rugged, mountainous terrain, bright sunlight, low rainfall, and strong winds; is noted for producing concentrated wines
- Cotes du Roussillon Villages – the best vineyards from the Cotes du Roussillon can apply for village status
- Fitou – north of the Roussillon Village AC; contains two areas: a warm, coastal strip, producing fuller bodied wines; a cooler, inland area where vines sit at altitude, producing a lighter-style wine
- Corbiéres – a warm site near the coast; vineyards are planted at altitude that are cooled by the tramontane; within Corbiéres are 11 sub-regions (Boutenac is noted as being one of the best and as having its own AC)
- Minervois – lies on the slopes of the Massif Central and the quality here pertains to the respective vineyard’s altitude, the soil type, and the amount of cool ocean air it receives from the Atlantic (it’s noted that this region is also sub-divided, with LaLivinére as one of the best sub-regions, again with its own AC)
- Picpoul de Pinet – yum I love Picpoul and, PERSONAL NOTE: I have my good friend Randall Grahm (Bonny Doon Vineyard) to thank for that, as he is the first winemaker to pour me a glass (while of course explaining it in his infinite wisdom). Anywho, Picpoul de Pinet is located quite close to the coast, so those cool sea breezes help retain the acidity of the white grape.
- Limoux – inland, kind of behind Cobiéres, is another source of white wine in the region; here the cooling influence comes from altitude (not the sea) and is noted for its oaked Chardonnay.
3) Languedoc AC red wines follow a similar blend as found in what other French region?
Here in the Languedoc, the main red grape varieties are:
- Grenache – said to be well suited to the warm, dry summer climate
- Syrah – more successful in the cooler sites
- Carignan – high in tannin, acidity, and color, but lacks fruit (Good blender then, no? Although there is a note here that the old vine Carignan on poorer soils can produce a more well-rounded, structured wine); FUN FACT: The grape was originally planted for its ability to produce large yields. Plantings have recently been reduced, but it’s still widely planted and permitted by all AC’s. (Way to rally, Carignan, way to rally…)
- Cinsault – predominantly used for rosés (blended with Grenache—the most typical blend found in Provence, which we’re not exactly talking about at the moment…), but also to add red fruit flavors to red blends
- Mourvédre – continues to stick with its theme and ripens most successfully in the warmest vineyard locations; adds richness, color, and complexity to those red blends
I’d say, given those varieties and descriptors (not to mention the proximity of Languedoc to the about-to-be-named region) this is most reminiscent (for me) of the Southern Rhone region. What do you think?
4) What is the local white variety found in Limoux?
Oh…I just answered that above. Chardonnay. Any questions?
5) Describe a wine from Bandol.
So the bulk of this pop quiz took us to the Languedoc-Roussillon region. (Which, by the way, I wish was referred to as Roussillon-Languedoc, because I only just realized while writing this post that if you’re reading the map from left to right, that’s the order: Roussillon-Languedoc. And it’s so confusing to refer to it the other way, especially for those of us who appear to be geographically challenged. Sorry, personal anecdote, that.) This question takes us to the east side to Provence, which I will cover more in a following post.
Bandol is an AC within the Cotes de Provence, which is the largest appellation in Provence. Bandol is known for its red wines based on Mourvédre, which can ripen successfully when planted to the region’s south-facing, terraced slopes. The wine is described as rich, fully bodied, with powerful tannins and it’s highly recommended to bottle age these wines before enjoyment. With age comes bramble, meat, licorice, and spice—oh yes, that’s my Mourvédre.
Alright, be honest, how did I do? This is a new region for me—like completely—so any feedback is so appreciated. Anything I got mixed up? Forgot? Should elaborate more on? Let me know…thanks!
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