From the Pyrénées Mountains to the rolling blue Mediterranean sea, to the winding Rhône River and chalky plateaus, Southern France's scenic beauty is home to the largest wine-producing area in the world, with offerings as diverse as their renowned landscapes.
Wines, in a range of styles, such as aromatic whites, fruit-bursting rosés and rich, bold reds, are here, just waiting to be discovered. Additionally, the South of France is home to decadent sweet wines and sparkling ones. Limoux's village holds claim to the first sparkling wine, the result of overzealous corking by Benedictine Monks at the Abbey Saint Hilaire in 1531, a full generation before the first corks ever popped in the Champagne area of Northern France.
Thankfully, we won't need a passport to enjoy some of these wines. They are as close as your nearest Frederick wine shop, so let's cruise along the famous coastline to explore a few.
The sun-drenched Occitanie area includes Languedoc, Roussillon, Cahors and dozens of other villages in the southern third of France. This vast region is primarily known as a red wine producing area, but white wines also flourish here.
A favorite choice found in most stores is called Picpoul de Pinet, produced by several different wineries. Cool ocean breezes blanket the warm vineyards, imparting a natural acidity in the grapes, in turn, stimulating the palate. These refreshing wines are especially good at the beginning of a meal; citrusy white wines spark your appetite…a salivating tip that chefs love!
Further inland where the temperature rises, a different set of white grapes are grown, such as the sturdy, elegant Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne. Far from the lemony zip of Picpoul, these fuller-bodied whites show flavors of melon, peach, apricot and honey. Match these wines with chicken, pork, soft cheeses and weightier fish such as tuna or sea bass. Heavier fare pairs best with heavier wines.
Rosés are the hottest wine trend lately, and for a good reason. Medium-bodied, softer tannins and appealing fruit-forward aspects provide something for everyone. Rosé is produced everywhere grapes are grown, but the world looks to Occitanie as benchmark quality.
These pink wines pair perfectly with everything from seafood to salads, light cuts of beef, BBQ chicken and Asian dishes where the spice's heat matches up well with the noticeable fruit. Serve these wines cool, but not too cold. Ice-cold wines lose much of their flavor, so to enjoy a quality rosé, keep it cool to the touch. Bring it out of the refrigerator ten minutes before serving…if you can wait that long!
Bold, heavier-bodied red wines flourish in Occitanie. The sun shines brightly here, warming the vineyards and stimulating sugar in the grapes, which convert to alcohol during fermentation. These big reds match well with sturdy cuisines such as roast lamb, grilled steak, stews, and hearty cheeses. For an authentic treat, try some cassoulet, the tasty bean and lamb dish famous in the South of France.
Occitanie earned its reputation as a highly diverse region producing every style of wine. Whether red, white or rosé, choose from Southern France's grand supply of fine wines with prices reflecting strong value and high quality. À votre santé…to your health!
Robert Cavanaugh is a resident of Frederick, MD and a professional wine educator who has conducted seminars and events in over a dozen countries around the world.
Enjoy a Taste of France!
HB Picpoul de Pinet 2019, $9.99 at Orion Wines & Spirits: Light to medium body, crisp and citrusy with lemon and pineapple flavors, this wine matches well with seafood, shellfish, soft cheeses and salads.
Hampton Waters 2019, $24.99 at Franklin Wines & Liquors: Jon Bon Jovi’s foray into wine is a runaway success…medium body, cherry and watermelon flavors with a bit of strawberry. A nice match for pizza, BBQ and grilled chicken.
Domaine Spencer la Pujade Carignan Old Vine 2015, $16.99 at Riverside Liquors: Rich and full-bodied with black cherry and mocha flavors, this wine works well with burgers, steak and lamb.