Coteaux du Languedoc and the Coastal Vins Doux Naturels
By Richard James
This Guide was last updated on 06 March 2010
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Mas de Daumas Gassac near the village of Aniane, with the Gorges de l'Hérault in the distance. © Mick Rock/Cephas.
Montpellier is by far the most happening place in the sprawling Languedoc region and certainly the wine capital of the south. The city is the focal point of wine academia, research and a new technology mini-boom. It’s also a very attractive base and launch-pad for visiting several exciting wine areas in all directions, with a good choice of restaurants, hotels, wine bars and shops. Montpellier is surrounded by vineyards, although some not necessarily in the best sites. Overall, this region offers a wide variety of wine styles from everyday rosés to serious reds for ageing. A selection of different Languedoc wines would effortlessly match every flavour and dish on even the most eclectic menu. Similarly, when exploring where they’re made, the contrasting terrain quickly changes from foaming Mediterranean through gentle hillsides to brooding mountains.
The area’s most distinctive whites are Picpoul de Pinet from north of the Bassin de Thau, home to world-famous oyster farms; Clairette du Languedoc towards the hills around Clermont; sweet and dry Muscats from Frontignan, Mireval and Lunel; as well as some good Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. As for reds, the real interest is found in lesser-known zones such as Grés de Montpellier to the east and west of Montpellier and Pic Saint Loup in wild countryside north of the city; around the villages that make up theTerrasses du Larzac; and in the Pézenas area. Leading growers in these newly demarcated sub-zones have been working on red wine cuvées that best express some kind of local identity, with sometimes very impressive results.
The mountainous area in the north, dominated by Pic Saint Loup, which faces the Hortus plateau, sits on the edge of the very old Massif Central rock formation. Rocky outcrops of clay-limestone gradually give way to swathes of garrigue (moor land), and near the coast there is an alluvial plain, with overlying clay or limestone, that consists of beaches and lagoons. Close to Montpellier there are gravelly slopes around La Méjanelle, Castelnau-le-Lez and Saint Aunès with scattered pebbly patches and a mixture of limestone and iron-rich soils. In the Hérault valley, in the western corner, the schist slopes produce some of the finer reds.
This micro-region has a Mediterranean climate and is one of the warmest regions in France with temperatures often exceeding 30°C. Rainfall is irregular but when it falls, it can be torrential and damaging often resulting in flooding, especially in the low lying areas. The wind, when it comes from inland, is also important since it exacerbates dry conditions - here the major threat to vineyards is drought.
By road the most direct route from Paris takes about seven hours using motorways nearly all the way: A10, A71 and right to the end of the A75 (or on to the A750 for Montpellier itself), which crosses the river Tarn on the tallest road bridge in the world, the spectacularly engineered Millau Viaduct. By train, the TGV runs direct to Montpellier and takes just over three hours from Paris. Both Montpellier and the smaller airport at Nîmes serve various European destinations; the nearest major international airports are Lyon, Toulouse or Nice.
Montpellier Tourist Office,
30 Allée Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, 34000 Montpellier
Maison des Vins du Languedoc,
Mas de Saporta, 34970 Lattes
Tel: 04 67 06 04 44
Syndicat des Vignerons du Pic Saint-Loup
The Mairie, 34270 Valflaunès
Tel: 04 67 55 97 47
Syndicat de Défense du Picpoul de Pinet
1 Avenue du Picpoul, 34850 Pinet
Tel: 04 67 77 03 10
Pézenas Tourist Office,
1 Place Gambetta, 34120 Pézenas
Tel: 04 67 98 36 40
Languedoc-Roussillon General Tourist Information
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