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The Languedoc Roussillon Region of France is an undiscovered gem filled with breathtaking coastline, some of France's best cuisine, rich Medieval history and amazing architecture like chateaux (castles) and cathedrals.
Bordering Provence, the Languedoc Roussillon is just as charming and beautiful with the Mediterranean and Pyreneees, but is less tourist-ridden and less expensive. France's most up and coming wines are from this region.
Winemaking in the Languedoc has improved beyond recognition, with the introduction of temperature control and insulated cellars, as well as the shift from large oak foudres to much smaller barriques, to name a couple of the most obvious changes.
A shift in terroir
There have been similar dramatic changes in the vineyards. Once they were concentrated on the flat coastal plains. These days new vineyards are planted on increasingly inaccessible slopes and at higher altitudes, as winemakers search for cooler sites and less fertile soils. Pic St. Loup is recognized as one of the cooler parts of the Languedoc, producing elegant wines based on syrah. The wines of the more recently recognized Terrasses du Larzac are gaining in reputation and attracting new winegrowers, for the same reason -- the wines have an appealing freshness.
Grape varieties are being reconsidered. Syrah, mourvèdre and grenache noir were seen as cépages améliorateurs and planted extensively to improve flavor. These days, people are reassessing the quality of more traditional carignan and cinsaut, and nurturing their old vines. White wine too has improved beyond recognition, with the introduction of rolle or vermentino, roussanne and marsanne, which made for some intriguing and original blends, as well as chardonnay, chenin blanc and viognier.
Although the appellations rules of the Languedoc are as strict as any part of France in regard to what you can or cannot plant, the much more flexible regulations of the various vins de pays, or indications géographiques protégées as they should now be called, allow for all manner of experimentation with different grape varieties.
New winemakers bringing energy
Much of this improvement is driven by the newcomers to the region. The great advantage of the Languedoc is its affordability. Recently, a winegrower from Burgundy was able to buy a whole estate in Roussillon for the price of one hectare of Nuits St. Georges. The newcomers have often had careers in other fields and have an energy that drives them forward. There are any number of examples. Charles and Ruth Simpson at Domaine Sainte Rose, Graham Nutter at Château St. Jacques d'Albas and John Hegarty at Domaine de Chamans all had extensive means to intellectually invest, while on a more humble scale there are people like Peter and Deborah Core at Mas Gabriel, Simon and Monika Coulshaw at Domaine des Trinités, and Jonathan and Rachel Hesford at Domaine de Treloar.
The appellations themselves are in a state of flux, undergoing quality realignment. Coteaux du Languedoc, the appellation that was created in 1985, with various smaller terroirs stretching from Narbonne almost to Nîmes, is being replaced by Languedoc, which will also cover the vineyards of Roussillon, as the base of a pyramid of quality. Then there are smaller, more defined areas such as La Clape and Pic St. Loup, with even smaller crus such as Roquebrun in St. Chinian and La Livinière in the Minervois.