French cooperative wines: 20 of the best
The top picks from an extensive tasting...
Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France stretches from the Rhône valley in the east to the Spanish border in the southwest.
It is dominated by 300,000 hectares of vineyards, making it France’s largest wine producing region.
It has been estimated that one in every 10 bottles in the world produced in the 20th century originated from here.
Common red varieties include Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Noir and Mourvèdre.
Common white varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Piquepoul, Marsanne and Roussanne.
Image Credit: Andrew Jefford
Languedoc has been an important winemaking centre for several centuries, with the port of Sete and the link to the Atlantic via the 17th Century Canal du Midi providing key trading routes.
Going further back, there is evidence of Roman winemaking in the area. The ruins of a first century AD winery lies near Clermont l’Herault west of Montpellier.
The Mediterranean climate and plentiful land with soil ranging from rocky sand to thick clay has long been considered very suitable for the production of wine.
However, Languedoc-Roussillon’s heritage has often been overlooked in the modern era because the region gained a reputation for producing quantity over quality.
In the 20th Century, very little wine in the region was classified as appellation contrôlée until the 1980s, when a new focus on quality began to emerge.
Vast swathes of vineyard were destroyed by the deadly phylloxera bug in the late 1800s, affecting most European regions.
It was actually a botanist from Languedoc, Jules Emile Planchot, who is credited with fighting back against phylloxera after helping to discover that the American rootstock was resistant to the disease.
Languedoc has always been a hotbed of political protest and it is considered the birthplace of French socialism.
In 1907, thousands of winemakers poured into the streets of the region’s major cities to complain at cheap wine imports, mainly from from North Africa, that they deemed illegal – in part because of the added sugar in the wines.
French troops were sent in to control the situation, but shots were fired and six people died. There was another death in 1976 during more winemaker protests in the region.
Languedoc is home to the Comité d’Action Viticole – or more recently, the Comité Régionale d’Action Viticole.
Known as CRAV, bands of member producers have intermittently attacked foreign wine lorries, storage areas and government buildings in the area.
Today, the face of Languedoc-Roussillon wine has drastically changed. More commercially viable grape varieties have been planted, and names such as St Chinian, Faugères, Corbières, Pic St Loup and Terrasses du Larzac are increasingly known among sommeliers and wine lovers – and the wines are often tipped as good value bets on restaurant lists.
Tourism has also surged. Long sandy beaches and striking scenery complement the region’s mix of old and new in its cities, such as regional capital Montpellier and also Nimes, Narbonne, Carcassonne and Perpignan.