Sweet Wines of Languedoc-Roussillon

wine vats

The region of Languedoc-Roussillon is famous for its wines, providing more than a third of France's entire production and producing more wine than Bordeaux, Australia, South Africa and Chile combined. It is the world's largest wine producing region and its reputation for producing quality wines has been hard won but well deserved.

However, having said all that, it is perhaps less well known for its sweet wines or 'vins doux naturels' which go perfectly with all those festive goodies you are anticipating for the festive season. Some are desert wines to accompany, sweet things, chocolate or fruit, others are excellent aperitif wines and then there are those that go deliciously with foie gras or goat's cheese.

These are 'naturally sweet' wines that have been fortified with brandy to stop fermentation, leaving residual sugar to add sweetness to the wine and tend to have a higher alcohol content. The majority are made with a variety of Muscat grapes and the red fortified wines of the Banyuls are made from Grenache grapes.

glasses of wine

There are three main types of sweet or fortified wines in the Languedoc-Roussillon:

  • Muscat
  • Rivesaltes
  • Banyuls

There are 4 Muscat Appellations in Languedoc Frontignan, Mireval, Lunel and St Jean-de-Minervois. The most famous of them is Muscat de Frontignan found on the coast close to Montpellier. Many of the vines are planted close to the sea where they ripen well and produce rich, syrupy wines with deep flavours. Just slightly east is the Muscat de Mireval appellation producing medium bodied wines with a fresher style than its Frontignan neighbour. Another Muscat wine is grown in Lunel producing a lighter fairly refreshing wine and the final one is Muscat de St Jean-de-Minervois and is the freshest and most delicate of them all. It has a crisp freshness and a delicacy that some Muscat's lack. These golden syrups should be served well chilled, but once opened keep for a week or more in the refrigerator.

These wines are grown mainly on the Roussillon plain around the town of Rivesaltes which is just north of Perpignan. There are quite a number of styles of Rivesaltes wine. They range from fruity and reasonably light, ideal as an aperitif, to deeply concentrated and complex to finish a meal or to accompany strong cheeses. Some are named after their colour:

  • Rosé which has flavours of strawberry, raspberry, Grenadine and red currants and should be served chilled as a delicious aperitif.
  • Grenat means garnet which is the colour of this wine. Serve it chilled as an aperitif or try it with a chocolate desert…!
  • Tuilé takes its name from the colour of baked terracotta tiles; reddish brown with hints of orange and yellow. There are flavours of prunes, quince, tobacco, coffee and chocolate make this a delicious match with strong cheeses accompanied with quince jelly.
  • Ambré is a deep amber colour and is often a very complex wine with aromas and flavours of Seville oranges, crystallised fruit, hazelnuts and almonds. It is wonderful with cheeses and some orange based deserts.

In Banyuls, winemakers use various methods to "bake" their wines to encourage deep raisin colors. Some winemakers have a system of transporting the wine among different size barrels of various ages that are left out in the sun to warm. Others will put the wine in large glass jars called 'bonbonnes' and expose it to direct sunlight which produces a dark, faded brown color referred to as 'rancio'. The wines have flavours of caramel, toffee and walnuts and are delicious with a fine aged cheese.

French cheese