The young tearaway of the south

Named after the local Occitan dialect (langue d’oc), the Languedoc is a huge swathe of land running from Narbonne in the west to Nimes in the East, stretching 70km inland from the coast. Every type of terrain imaginable is represented, from grassy plains to jagged mountains, dense forests to swaying palms. But much of it is rocky, rugged and rough.

Some of the winemakers are too. Broadly speaking they are a down-to-earth lot, often first generation vine growers, mastering their craft through trial and error. Burgundy can boast ten generations of winemakers in a single estate, and benefits from the wealth of experience that brings. But history and tradition can be ossifying.

The wines of the Languedoc are still being defined, which gives the winemakers freedom to experiment and determine their own story. Of all the major regions of France, this is the most exciting, dynamic and rapidly changing. New terroirs, new grape varieties and new producers are forever frothing up like the bubbles in a glass of fizz.

Not only does this make it an exciting region to explore, it also means there are still some extremely good value wines to be discovered. Because the Languedoc is a relative latecomer to quality wine making, many of the talented growers here are still establishing themselves. They may be making excellent wines, but few have cemented their reputations compared to the dynasties of Bordeaux or the legendary growers of Burgundy. As such, they can’t yet trade on their name alone – the quality has to be good enough to turn heads, year in, year out.

Additionally, the Languedoc doesn’t yet have the cachet of some of the more famous wine regions of France, which makes it hard for producers to charge high prices, no matter the quality. The best wines for the Languedoc are a tenth of the price of the best wines of Burgundy.

Most traditional regions such as Burgundy and Bordeaux use a fairly limited palette of grapes, Languedoc growers are willing to give anything a go in the search for something special. Most wines are a blend of varieties, the most common being Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault for reds; Vermentino, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Bourboulenc, Marsanne and Roussanne for whites. This is the warmest grape growing region in France, which makes for intense, ripe and rich wines – but the best still have complexity and finesse.

Like most of the famous wine regions of France, the Languedoc is split up into a number of more and less distinct regions. Some, such as Corbières, Faugères, and Minervois are quite well-known, but recently there have been four small, precisely-defined sub regions (crus) that have been marked out: Corbières-Boutenac; St-Chinian-Berlou; St-Chinian-Roquebrun and Minervois-La Livinière, all of which are worth a closer look. There is also a kind of ‘training camp’ of other sub regions that are trying to break into this top tier, and they are legally allowed to state the name of their region. This is often where to look for top quality and excellent value, and all are worth exploring.

Two of my favourites are Montpeyroux and Terrasses de Larzac, both in the eastern Languedoc near Clémont-l’Hérault – if you’re passing through, pay a visit to Mas de Daumas Gassac, Domaine d’Aupilhac, Domaine de Montcalmès or Mas de la Séranne. Back in England, for an inexpensive introduction to Languedoc wines, try Domaine de L’Aigle or Les Jamelles. Like a young Marlon Brando, this wild, rebellious region is growing into something special.

First published in Living France magazine, but this is longer.