Aramon or Aramon Noir is a red grape varietal grown primarily in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. Aramon has also been grown in Algeria and Argentina, but nowhere else has it ever reached the levels of influence it used to have in the south of France. Between the late 19th century and the 1960's, it was France's most grown varietal - today only a tiny amount survives and replanting of Aramon has been in decline since the mid-20th century. Amazingly today, most wine enthusiasts have never heard of Aramon or tried it.
Most noted for its very high productivity, and yields which can reach levels as high as 400 hectolitres per hectare. The vine's resistance to oidium, phylloxera, and powdery mildew led to its reputation as workhorse grape that could be relied on by grape growers.
However, when cropped at high yields, the resulting wines were a very light red in colour, with a blue-black tinge, low in alcohol and extract and generally thin on palate character. Today Aramon is often blended with darker coloured varietals such as Alicante Bouschet and Grand Noir de la Calmette to intensify the resulting wine.
Though if planted in poor soils and pruned to produce smaller yields, it has been shown to be able to give concentrated wines with spicy, earthy somewhat rustic characters. However, such Aramon wines are extremely rare, but some varietal wines are still produced in Languedoc area - though most are made in a Rosé style.
A viticultural disadvantage of Aramon is that it buds early and ripens late, which means that it is only suitable for growing in hotter regions, and is very sensitive to spring frost. These characters lead to a decreased popularity of Aramon in France from the mid-20th century. This trend was reinforced when the French vineyards were hit by severe frosts in 1956 and 1963, which hit the frost-sensitive Aramon hard. Aramon was primarily replaced with Carignan, which overtook Aramon as France's most grown varietal in the 1960s.
Aramon is thought to have originated in Spain, though DNA testing has revealed Gouais Blanc to be one of its parents, the other is so far unidentified. This parentage is more typical of French or Germanic varietals, but given its heat-demanding viticultural characteristics, it is unlikely to have survived in cultivation in cooler regions. Therefore, its origin could very well be southern France.
As an indication of the influence the vineyards of the Hérault department (Languedoc) had - the area more than doubled between 1849 and 1869; it covered a massive 214,000 hectares. Thus, in this department alone, the vineyard area was larger than that of the entire Bordeaux region of today, with most of it was planted with Aramon.
One of the main reasons for the demise of Aramon’s lighter style red wines - were they received aggressive competition from cheaper red wines from around France, Europe and North Africa having more colour, alcohol and concentration than the typical Languedoc wines. Since these characteristics were attractive to consumers, it became common in the 20th century to blend cheaper wines from the south of France with Algerian and other North African wines.
In 2000, there remained 9,100 hectares of Aramon in France, primarily in the Hérault wine region, with still a decreasing trend. If you can find an Aramon red wine or Rosé, give it a try. It's definitely a historical treat, to drink what most of the French were drinking up through the mid 1900s.