While quality white wines are produced in the Languedoc AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) area, it is the red wines which dominate production, making the wider Languedoc region the most prolific of all French vineyards. The region produces most of the Vin de Pays we love and, in the process, acquired a reputation for quantity over quality. This caused the ‘wine lake’ of over-production of 2005 which further damaged prices and quality reputation.
Since then, as is the way with the French cooperative winemaking structure driven by the AOC system, Languedoc wineries have made a coordinated effort to raise quality, rebranding the mass market red wines as Vin de France instead of Vin de Pays and using the region’s full name of Coteaux de Languedoc in marketing activity. A ‘coteaux’ means the side of a hill covered by vines, planted on the sea-facing slopes.
The vines were, they say, probably first planted by the Greeks around 500BC. The vineyards have been substantially restructured in order to focus on Mediterranean grape types Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Carignan. Languedoc wines are made using two, three or four of them but never just one.
The Coteaux de Languedoc AOC is a vast area of plains and mountain foothills stretching from Narbonne and the Franco-Spanish border in the west to the Camargue in the east and bordered by the Mediterranean in the south.
One of the best ways to visit the vineyards is as part of a canal boat holiday along the Canal du Midi. There are several hire companies to choose from. One I enjoyed a few years ago was through www.leboat.co.uk. The canal winds to Toulouse through the countryside from the Étang de Thau, a sheltered lagoon behind the Mediterranean port of Sète,
The wine châteaux are strung along its length. Stop a while, take your own flagon or container with you (you can buy five or 10 litre plastic containers) and wine straight from the barrel will cost only a handful of euros per litre. There are bottled bargains to be had, too.
If French canal boating is not on your agenda, here are some examples I found in our supermarkets.
A few years ago Fitou was everywhere as a cheap but hearty wine. Then it seemed to disappear. It is making a comeback now as a good value for money wine.
Mme Claude Permentier for £5.99 for a 75cl bottle at 12.5 per cent abv at Waitrose has a complex nose giving a Mediterranean herbs, red berry fruits, rich ripe plum and peppery mouth-tingle.
One of the most popular of the Languedoc wines, credited with 46 per cent of the annual Languedoc volume, it is great with roast lamb and cheese.
Saint Auriol Corbières 2016, £6.99 at Waitrose, 13.5 per cent. Made from Grenache, Syrah and Carignan grapes, the taste is dark berry fruits with a touch of lavender on the nose.
Tesco has its own Corbières at £5 a bottle, 12.5 per cent. Same fruity flavour, just a bit lighter makes it a nice summer red.
One of the best but currently hard to find in the supermarkets, probably because of price.
I found an excellent example at wine specialist Laithwaites. Chateau Canat, made from just Syrah and Grenache grapes, is full bodied at 14 per cent, a beautiful wine which at £12.99 a bottle is a sipper not a quaffer.