The Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southeast France has long been proactive in producing accessible and affordable varietal wines in restaurant-friendly volumes. It was one of the first—and only—French regions to label its vines by the grapes they are produced from. This trend was led by winemaker Robert Skalli and other large local producers, though the region remains dominated by many small producers and cooperatives.
Recent wine law changes have broadened the area’s winemakers’ options in terms of the variety of wines they can produce and still label according to French varietal laws. The new Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP), which was originally implemented in 2009 and means protected geographical region, replaces the VdP (Vin de pays) designation. The Languedoc-Roussillon falls under the Pays d’Oc IGP.
The IGP focuses on wines outside the traditional Appellation d’origine Contrôlée category. It allows producers to use atypical varietals such as albariño, or focus on marketing wines made from grapes popular stateside like cabernet sauvignon and merlot.
The law was expanded in late 2011 to allow the region’s producers to increase the number of varietals they are legally allowed to use from 33 to 56.
“It seems to be that [Pays d’Oc IGP] always had evolved with the times and met international needs,” says Gerardo Acevedo-Vanni, general manager and wine director of Bocanova restaurant in Oakland. As a major port in France, Languedoc-Roussillon has also experienced a wide variety of Mediterranean influences, which contribute to the breadth of its wine-making styles, he notes.
Bocanova features two wines from the region by the bottle for its wine club. “They are brilliant, good quality and great texture and flavor profile [wines],” Acevedo-Vanni. While the Languedoc-Roussillon wines have not reached the status of premium wines for many operators, “they have that elegant, South-of-France persona,” he adds.
Indeed, “The consistent production of bistro-style wines in the region stands out and makes it an easy area for a sommelier to gravitate to—or a savvy consumer,” says James Watkins, wine director at modern French restaurant L’Olivier Restaurant & Bar in Houston. He offers five of his total wine by-the-glass selections from the region, priced from $7 and up to $60 by the bottle.
Across the board the region’s wines remain value driven for every style and palate, says Noon Inthasuwan-Summers, beverage director at MOKSA in Cambridge, MA. She features six wines from the region on her list, including a Bertrand pinot noir, priced at $9 a glass and $34 a bottle.The changes offer “more freedom in their decisions for both viticulture and viniculture,” Summers notes, and they provide sommeliers with “a secret weapon in offering Old World gems at affordable prices.”