If there is any image that represents the old French Region of Languedoc it’s the fortifications of Carcassonne, dating back to Roman times but later developed in the 13th and 14th Centuries. And now ……. it stands in the centre of the new Region of Occitanie.
Never heard of Occitanie? That’s forgivable, because as of last year it didn’t even exist. When parliament recently reduced the country’s regions by nearly half, the area formerly called Languedoc-Roussillon joined with Midi-Pyrénées, located in France’s southwest corner next to Spain, to become Occitanie. (The term, which dates to the Middle Ages, refers to a large southern European realm where people spoke a Latin- derived language called Occitan.) Even locals aren’t yet used to the new terminology and often revert to the old names, which can be confusing to visitors. This is a shame, because Occitanie— or whatever you want to call it—is a jewel. Read the full article Occitanie)
This new region produces an incredible number of wine types from a wide variety of grapes. From the “Black Wine” of Cahors in the north to the perfumed Muscat de Frontignan on the coastal south, and in between there is the carignan of Corbieres, the picpoul of Picpoul de Pinet, and the indigenous Rhone grapes of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Viognier. None of this extreme variation should be surprising because of the variations in terroir and the fact that this was the first part of France to be introduced to vine growing and wine making by the Romans. It is also France’s largest wine growing region accounting for around 10% of the country’s production.
Here’s a list of many of the wine types from this region you will find on wine labels all over the world for reds, whites, roses and delicious dessert muscats: Cahors, Corbieres, Fitou, Limoux, Minervois, St Chinian, Rivesaltes, Languedoc, Faugeres, Frontignan, Lunel, Mireval, Roussillon, Banyuls, Collioure, Maury.
This is also the region of Vin Doux Naturels (VDN), fermented grape juice with fermentation stopped, with natural sugars still remaining, by adding further alcohol. These are France’s popular aperitifs with Rivesaltes, made from Grenache Noir, Blanc and Gris being the most popular by a country mile! Though once also known for its massive output of French Table Wine and low quality of exports, times are changing…….
“This is France’s new world, a scene of new ideas coming good and growing expectations. Money and talent are immigrating here to replace old habits; it deserves close study.”
(The World Atlas of Wine (7th Edition), Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson)
As a family we have visited this region many times, first in 1987 as we took two days to reach The Camargue after an overnight stop in the Burgundian village of Meursault then on to our “luxury tent” in Grau du Roi. Eurocamp became our holiday agent of choice for many years after that as we spent fortnights at Remoulins and Pont du Gard, Cantobre in The Cevennes, Argeles sur Mer, and upgraded in some years to gites in Collioure and Aigues Mortes to name but two. In those days the beaches were less crowded and superbly clean and free of large African men selling nuts, beads, bangles and hats. The seafood was fresh and plentiful with tuna steaks as big as car wheels that only just fitted on the barbecue, oysters and mussels by the bucketful for a few quid, and fresh prawns straight off the boats daily. We canoed down rivers, explored the old villages and Roman remains, spent hours on nature trails identifying butterflies, birds and flowers, visited markets, fetes, (especially wine and seafood festivals) and of course explored and drank the wine types across the whole region. An ice cold glass of Muscat de Frontignan served in a frosted glass with slices of fresh peach and melon on the side has no equivalent as a “taste of France” sitting in a shaded roadside shack owned by a local vigneron as the temperature hits 95 degrees Fahrenheit!
Then in the evening games of baguette cricket, pétanque, and making our own music (pre Stomp!) with Champa on the dustpan and brush, Sharon on the large sweeping brush, Michael on the frying pan with chopsticks and yours truly on a pair of saucepan lids! How on earth we were never thrown off the campsite I will never know, but I guess the sound must have been just as entertaining to listen to as it was to create.
These are all clearly very personal memories, but they remind us of happy times as a family and the things that bound us together in this beautiful region of France. All part of existentialist reflection in old age and a reminder ….. to go back!