Genetic control of herbage quality variation was assessed through the use of the molecular marker-based reference genetic map of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.). The restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP), amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and genomic DNA-derived simple sequence repeat-based (SSR) framework marker set was enhanced, with RFLP loci corresponding to genes for key enzymes involved in lignin biosynthesis and fructan metabolism. Quality traits such as crude protein (CP) content, estimated in vivo dry matter digestibility (IVVDMD), neutral detergent fibre content (NDF), estimated metabolisable energy (EstME) and water soluble carbohydrate (WSC) content were measured by near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS) analysis of herbage harvests. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis was performed using single-marker regression, simple interval mapping and composite interval mapping approaches, detecting a total of 42 QTLs from six different sampling experiments varying by developmental stage (anthesis or vegetative growth), location or year. Coincident QTLs were detected on linkage groups (LGs) 3, 5 and 7. The region on LG3 was associated with variation for all measured traits across various experimental datasets. The region on LG7 was associated with variation for all traits except CP, and is located in the vicinity of the lignin biosynthesis gene loci xlpomt1 (caffeic acid-O-methyltransferase), xlpccr1 (cinnamoyl CoA-reductase) and xlpssrcad 2.1 (cinnamyl alcohol dehydrogenase). Comparative genomics analysis of these gene classes with wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) provides evidence for conservation of gene order over evolutionary time and the basis for cross-specific genetic information transfer. The identification of co-location between QTLs and functionally associated genetic markers is critical for the implementation of marker-assisted selection programs and for linkage disequilibrium studies, which will enable future improvement strategies for perennial ryegrass.