The Languedoc is the largest wine growing area in all of France. With around 700,000 acres (2,800 km²) in red and white wine production, it is the single biggest wine-producing region in the world, and is responsible for more than 35% of France's total wine production. As recently as 2001, the Languedoc produced more wine than the entire United States.
Wine has been produced in the region for more than 2000 years. The Greeks, and then later the Romans, established colonies to produce wine and oil here, reportedly as far back as 500BC. From the 4th through to the 18th and into the early 19th centuries, the Languedoc had a reputation for producing high quality wine. In Paris during the 14th century, the wines from St. Chinian were prescribed in hospitals for their "healing powers".
With the innovation of the Industrial Age and into the late 19th century, production shifted towards mass produced le gros rouge; cheap red wines that could satisfy the growing work force were blended with stronger wines imported from France's North African colonies.
During both World Wars the Languedoc was responsible for producing the daily wine rations given to French soldiers.
In 1962, Algeria gained its independence from France, bringing an end to the blending of the stronger African wine to mask the thin le gros rouge. This event, coupled with French consumers en masse moving away from cheaper red wines by the 1970s, prompted many regional producers to start focusing on higher quality.
The vineyards were replanted with the high volume, stronger, but still undistinguished Carignan grapes.
Increasingly nowadays, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot, Cinsaut, Mourvedre, Sauvignon and Viognier are used for wine making. Gradually the Languedoc is again becoming a respected producer of quality wines. Many local vineyards now produce wines that command high prices. As in historical times, production of sweet wines, such as Muscat de Lunel and Rivesaltes continues along the coastal plains.
In driving around the Languedoc, you will see numerous signs reading "dégustation". The word originally denoted the art of recognising a wine, its place of origin, quality, and age, just from the taste; but nowadays it just means “free tasting.” You can stop and taste wines at these vineyards; and if you like what you taste, you can buy direct from the producer usually at a significant discount.
The five best known appellations in the Languedoc include Coteaux du Languedoc, Corbières, Faugères, Minervois, and Saint-Chinian AOCs. The vast majority of Languedoc wines are produced by about 500 rural wine cooperatives.
The appellation system in the region is undergoing considerable change with both new ones being created and existing ones changing. One recent change is that the Coteaux du Langeudoc has changed name to Languedoc and been extended to include also the Roussillon.
The Languedoc-Roussillon area is home to numerous grape varieties, including many well recognised international varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The traditional Rhône grapes of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah and Viognier are also prominent.
Chardonnay is a major white grape, used in the Vin de Pays d'Oc and the sparkling Crémant de Limoux. Others include Chenin Blanc and Mauzac, which is also the principal grape in the sparkling Blanquette de Limoux. The sweet fortified wines of the Muscat de Frontignan and Muscat de St-Jean Minervois regions are made with the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains grapes. In the Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC, fortified wines are made from Muscat of Alexandria grapes.
Among the reds, Cinsault and Mourvedre are major grapes of the Corbières, Faugères, Fitou, and Minervois AOCs. Cinsult is also commonly used in rosé production along with Lladoner Pelut, Picpoul Noir, Terret Noir and Grenache. Grenache is also the main grape used in the fortified wines of the Banyuls region. Some of the oldest vines in France are Carignan grapes. Winemakers often use carbonic maceration to soften the tannins.