Until the 1980s the wines of Languedoc-Roussillon were mostly rustic, roasted, and dirt-cheap--of little interest to export markets. But wine production in this sun-drenched, crescent-shaped region hugging the Mediterranean from the Rhone delta to the Spanish border has undergone a sea change in recent years. Today the Languedoc-Roussillon offers wine lovers more ripe, textured red wine for under $20 than just about any other grape-growing zone on the planet.
Most Languedoc-Roussillon red wines are blends. For years, the indigenous, ubiquitous Carignane grape, which at high production levels tastes like nothing at all, was widely complemented or replaced by more ""noble"" Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Mourvedre and Merlot; but today Carignane is beginning to make a comeback. Cinsaut, which has a long history in this region, remains prominent in the entry-level bottlings of many producers. As a rule, though, today's top Languedoc wines, with their generally higher content of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre, are darker, more vibrant, and more refined than ever.
While the Languedoc and Roussillon appellations are usually lumped together, wines made in these two areas are typically quite distinct in style. The Languedoc, located closer to the Rhone Valley, produces everything from juicy, fruit bombs meant for immediate pleasure to more serious, full-bodied, and structured wines that call to mind the best examples from the Rhone Valley. Roussillon, on the other hand, is an essentially Catalan region near France's border with Spain, producing distinctly warm wines of near-roasted ripeness--so ripe, in fact, that most consumers are familiar only with the late-harvest and fortified wines of the region. One aromatic element that infuses many of the Roussillon wines from across this region is that of garrigue , the wild and pungently herbal/spicy brush that dots hillsides along France's Mediterranean coast.