Exploring The Terrasses du Larzac AOP
- By Jamie Drummond
- 03 Mar 2021
- 5 MIN
- Level 101
Described by Andrew Jefford as the very essence of the Languedoc, the wines of the Terrasses du Larzac AOP have rapidly garnered an enviable reputation for quality.
Located inland at the northern edge of the once all-encompassing Coteaux du Languedoc (which no longer exists), around 30km west northwest of Montpellier, the Terrasses du Larzac vineyards are nestled within the cooler foothills of the limestone karst plateau in the southern end of the Massif Central known as the Causse du Larzac.
A History Lesson
The Terrasses du Larzac region has a long history of grape growing and winemaking that stretches back over 2000 years, firstly by the Romans, and later by the Benedictine monks. Throughout the 19th Century, like the rest of Languedoc, the vineyards grew in size, but it is interesting that historically yields were always kept lower than other regions in the south and southwest. Hit by Oidium and Phylloxera in 1850, most of the old vines were grafted onto American rootstocks, as was the case for much of Europe. Previously known as a separate sub-designation within the greater Languedoc appellation (Languedoc Terrasses du Larzac), this area was awarded AOP status in October of 2014.
The production area covers some 32 communes, with 648 ha currently under vine; over 74% of these having some form of environmental certification. The embrace of organic practices is very much homogeneous throughout the region, and increasingly so amongst the explosion of neo-producers, with over 40 establishing themselves there since the AOP was granted.
Only five grape varieties are permitted here: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Syrah, and Cinsault, so the AOP is only for the production of red wines. The proportion of a blend including Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre must not be less than 60% of the total. The proportion of any single grape (Grenache, Mourvèdre or Syrah) must not be higher than 75%. The proportion of Mourvèdre and Syrah (separately or together) cannot be less than 20% of the blend. If the blend includes anyCarignan, the proportion of Grenache cannot be less than 20%. The proportion of Cinsault cannot be more than 30%.
Yields are capped relatively low at 45 hl/ha, leading to a concerted push to produce quality wines that capture the unique terroir of the region. The wines must also be aged (read: not released to market) for at least 12 months.
A Unique Terroir
The soils in these south-facing vineyards are argilo-calcareous combinations of limestone and clay, with some iron and sandstone scattered throughout. One will find geology from the Primary epoch consisting of schist, sandstone, and sedimentary rock, as well as that of the Quarternary epoch containing scree or soil derived from old alluvial terrasses and spreading talus that over time have been swept downhill by water.
Elevations range from 50 to 400m above sea level. Due to near-constant winds coming from the Plateau du Larzac to the north (which rises to over 800m above sea level at Mont Saint Baudile) and the area’s maritime influence, the subsequent diurnal temperature shifts are significant (13 - 14 °C difference during the summer months) , helping prevent the grapes from ripening too rapidly, and preserving the defined acidity and undeniable freshness that has become a trademark of this region’s wines. The diversity of the terroir of Terrasses du Larzac is key here, leading to many varied styles of wine dependent upon the myriad variations in soil composition, aspect, elevation etc.
So How Do The Wines Taste?
These wines can be consumed young (within three years of vintage) but are also capable of ageing gracefully due to their inherent acidity and tannic structure. Tasting them young, they are fruity delicacies that are pleasing and very approachable. One will tend to find black fruits, jamminess, and notes of licorice.
If one has the patience to wait 5 - 10 years, one will find that they begin to exhibit more complex secondary and tertiary aromatics of leather, tobacco, cocoa, mocha, garrigue, and some animal notes, but importantly they still hold on to that attractive black fruit core.