On a recent spring morning Mark and I headed south to Minervois for wine exploration. It’s an easy train trip from Bordeaux to Carcassonne where we grabbed a car and headed into the foothills of the Massif Central.
Located in the northwest corner of the Languedoc region in southern France, it’s quite hilly and a great place to hike and cycle. The town of Minerve is a breathtaking visit that once sheltered a group of Cathars 800 years ago.
Our destination was in the Minervois La Livinière appellation, the first cru to be recognized in the Languedoc. We made it up a twisty road with vineyards and garrigue– scrub and aromatic bush– on each of its arid and rocky sides.
This is where Patricia Boyer-Domergue is sharing her winemaking philosophy and the soul of the property with her daughter Cécile as she transitions the reins.
Boyer-Domergue purchased the ancient Clos Centeilles plot after studying oenology in Bordeaux in the late ‘80s. We came to discover she studied with the late Denis Doubordieu- that’s where Mark completed an internship or ‘stage’ with Domaines Dubourdieu.
Traditional Yet Rare and Ancient
Clos Centeilles grows twenty-three different grape varieties. Most are traditional to the Languedoc and a few were near extinction. This is the list of the ancient varieties they grow:
- Riveyrenc Blanc
- Riveyrenc Gris
- Riveyrenc Noir
- Riveyrenc Verdal
- Araignan Blanc
- Aramon Gris
- Carignan Gris
- Clairette Rose
- Grenache Gris (different from Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir)
- Lledoner Pelut
- Morrastel Noir à Jus Blanc
- OEillade Noir
- Picpoul Gris
- Picpoul Noir
- Terret Gris
From the twenty three, fourteen different wines are produced of which one is a cru: Minervois La Livinière. The other wines are bottled as AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) or IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée).
Starting Again With Forgotten Varieties
Boyer-Domergue started working on the reintroduction of region-specific rare grape varieties in 1995. Much of the work in their thirty acres (fourteen hectares) of vines is done by hand. Although they aren’t certified organic, biodiversity in their small ecosystem is encouraged. Using plant extracts and having a ‘less is better’ approach is key while pesticides are shunned.
Another key point is their High Environmental Value (HVE) Level 3 certification. This particular agency looks at energy consumption, water usage, and conservation of surrounding natural habitats for the property’s biodiversity, and more. Here’s a succinct HVC explanation in English and another for those wanting to practice French!
Why Only One Minervois Cru?
Boyer-Domergue is all about preserving the historical and genetic heritage of the area. While a fan of the grapes allowed in the red only Minervois La Livinière Cru (Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Mourvèdre) she also preserves what came before. You could say she rescued Riveyrenc Gris, Riveyrenc Noir, and Araignan Blanc. As of 2011, each had less than one hectare planted. And Morrastel Noire à Jus Blanc- there are just fifteen hectares left in the world today!
Another Stand Out
Clos Centeilles doesn’t use oak. No barrels, no staves, no wood. Period. Our curious minds wanted to know why.
The area was once a sea and its soils are rich. Boyer-Domergue believes the complexity of their wines comes from this soil. Her preference is to let the grapes express themselves versus enhancing their expression with wood. The results are fresh, bright, and clean wines.
Clos Centeilles is listed as one of Jancis Robinson’s favorite producers in Minervois.
Tasting Clos Centeilles Wines With Cécile
Cécile walked us through all fourteen of their wines. Here are notes on some favorites although we give each of these characters a nod. Annual production is 55,000 bottles.
Mosaic de Centeilles 2016
A blend of their ancient grapes share floral, slight petroleum and lime pith scents. Bright on the palate with an almost perfect layer of acidity. It’s citrusy (Meyer lemon), fruity (peach and melon) and sports a creamy smooth character without being so.
La Part Des Agnes 2016
Whole grape bunches of Carignan, Picpoul Noir, and Riveyrenc Gris, along with their stems macerate for a night. This grape trio has less color and alcohol thus works famously for a Claret style of wine.
High aromatics of light spice, raspberry and cherry. The palate has a prickly sort of “wow, where did you come from” smile inducing acid. Wrapped inside that acid you find wild berries, dried cranberry, white pepper, and a slight savory- think cured meat- quality.
C de Centeilles en Blanc 2017 – A blend of Riveyrenc Blanc, Riveyrenc Gris, and Araignan Blanc, the trio produce a dry white wine with notes of pear and candied citrus rind. They also have a certain density on the palate, a precision of acidity, and a savory citrus profile.
Carignanissime de Centeilles 2015 – Clos Centeilles was first to bottle 100% Carignan in 1992, then known as the ‘black beat of Languedoc’. Everyone was ripping thier vines out but not Boyer-Domergue- she proved others wrong with this wine! Deep dark blackberry, floral (violet), hints of baking spice and licorice. Fresh, elegant acidity and tannins are in perfect, playful tune. Cecile shared this wine describes her mother!
Clos de Centeilles Rouge 2017 – This wine showcases ancient grapes, a blend of Picpoul Noir, Rivenyenc Noir, Verdal, Oeillade Noire, and Morrastel (just 15 hectares left in the world!). These were the region’s main grapes in the 18th century, then known as ‘the kings’. Frisky chewy tannins yet a fine, bright, and lengthy palate of flavor here!
Campagne de Centeilles 2015 – Cinsault with just 5% Syrah, this is the soul of the estate. A wine of beautiful aromatics followed by elegant bright acidity, fine-grained tannins, and a body that feels effortlessly balanced.
Minervois La Liviniere 2013 – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre
Black and boysenberry, grilled vegetables, and bay laurel show up then float to the palate of this AOC wine. It’s about slightly tacky yet fine-grained tannins, a balanced body with medium acidity, and length that won’t stop. It has muscles and a lot of meat on the bones! And it will enjoy a long life under proper storage conditions.
Capitelle de Centeilles 2007 Cinsault – The grapes are from a special plot of 100 year old vines in middle of the Clos with a unique microclimate. Grapes macerate for two months during which time soft punch-down occurs daily. This non-filtered wine ages for two years in stainless tanks and is racked four times per year. Once bottled, it rests eight years before release. The youngest vintage currently on market is 2008.
Keeping with the character of Cinsault, this wine delivers strong aromatics including ripe strawberry, blackberry, violet, and less common earthy scents. Beautifully balanced, elegant, soft and supple, it offers so much flavor and presence and length. When you want to contemplate your next vacation, this is the wine to help you dream out of the box!
What a treat to meet this dynamic team and taste so many rare grapes!
Something creates a memory at each winery we visit. Here it’s the commitment to documenting and preserving old varieties for future generations. If you make it to this area we highly recommend a visit sure to expand your wine mind and palate!
For more about the Minervois and Corbières areas in southern France click here.