Kicking off 2018, our French Winophiles group digs into two appellations in southern France within the Languedoc: Corbières and Minervois. This is where several organic and some biodynamic wines true to their terroir are found.
And where value, variety, and consistency are present and winemakers experiment and innovate.
I received two sample bottles, sharing one at a small dinner gathering with friends: people less schooled in wine, but who know what they like. It was a great an opportunity to get each person’s feedback, discussing the wine in detail.
The Languedoc Where and What
The Languedoc lies below the center of the country in the basis of the Mediterranean, and stretching from Montpellier to above the Spanish border. It’s referred to as “Languedoc-Roussillon” and treated as one unit. But they are independent regions with different characters- Languedoc more French and Roussillon more Spanish/Catalan.
It’s wide and vast with a plethora of soils and significant topographical diversity on which roughly 200,000 hectares (530,000 acres) of grapevines are planted. Historically, Languedoc wines were Carignan-based GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre) however its newer appellations favor Syrah and Grenache.
Some winemakers bottle under VDP (Vins de Pays), or IGP (Indication Géographic Protégée), which is the Europe-wide equivalent. VDP/IGP links a wine to geographic origin but in a less precise way than AOP, meaning minimal rules about grape variety percentages, what you can and cannot do, etc. Looser rules mean innovation and experimentation are possible.
Corbières and Minervois 101
Two appellations lie within the Languedoc: the Corbières and Minervois AOPs (Appellation d’Origine Protégée). Both are focused on red wines made from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsault, and Lladoner Pelut in differing proportions. They deliver a small amount of noteworthy whites made primarily from Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Vermentino (Rolle), and Maccabeu (Viura). Several other grapes grow there too. Here are the defining characteristics of each.
Minervois – Great Wines of the Winds
The Minervois is smaller than Corbières where wines tend toward fruit purity, voluminous, less tannic, and easier drinking. One might imply Minervois is a little smoother and suppler than Corbières. Reds are predominantly Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre. And some producers are making 100% variety versus blends.
Soils are clay-limestone, sandstone, marble, and schist. There is one Cru: Minervois-La-Livinière in the northern part of the AOP.
Oh that wind! The Languedoc is the windiest region in France where locals have a saying:
“C’est le pays du vent.” (It’s the land of the wind.)
Corbières – The Wild One
The biggest sub-appellation in Languedoc and fourth largest in France (in terms of geographical size), Corbières is directly south of Minervois brushing up against the Mediterranean Ocean. Reds are Carignan based, especially old Carignan where it forms part of the Corbières’ character. Carignan can comprise up to 50% of the blend.
It has one Cru: Corbiéres-Boutenac. Soil is predominantly limestone.
I heard Corbières described as “bolder and wilder” than Minervois. But wines we’ve tasted are also fresh, clean, and elegant.
Château Maris – Minervois AOP
Certified by Ecocert, Biodyvin and most recently Demeter, the Château utilizes a biodynamic approach. I love what they say on their website:
“It could be described as a holistic, ‘supercharged organic’ approach to winemaking”.
Super cool, the partners took the sustainability approach further- they built a new, energy self-sufficient winery utilizing hemp bricks. Dana Nigro from Wine Spectator wrote an informative article about their process. The winery website has a great video too.
Château Maris Old School 2014 (13% abv) | 85% Syrah, 15% Grenache
Grapes sourced for this bottle are from the whole of Languedoc and fall into the IGP/VDP category. (sample bottle provided)
A clean ruby color, the aromas are bright with slightly sweet rosehips and red/black fruits. Another person got crunchy red berries and peanut brittle. And another said if put under her nose blind she would guess it a white wine.
This succulent wine with plenty of palate lift had medium acidity and medium minus body. It had a bright, round mouth feel then ended with a rather short but satisfying finish with a touch of tannins. The pairing, mixed bean and beef stew with corn bread calmed the brightness enjoyably.
Château Ollieux Romanis – Corbières AOP
Located in Boutenac, the Château farms organically. They ceased using pesticides, etc., late in the 1990’s and are now ISO 14001 certified.
Famile Bories purchased the estate over 200 years ago and continues to farm it today, one of the largest privately owned in Corbières.
What’s striking is they manually harvest 80% of their roughly 130 hectares (321,000 acres)! Total wine production is 800,000 bottles. Château Website
Ollieux Romanis Lo Petit Fantet D’Hippolyte 2014 (14% abv)
- Organic Carignan, Syrah and Grenache blend
- Carbonic maceration using indigenous yeast, fermentation in cement, no added sulphur.
Carignan, Syrah and Grenache tend to produce fuller and richer wines. But this one is lighter packed with red/black fruits and lower tannins, perhaps from the carbonic maceration.
Highlighted aromas of dark cherry, notes of bay laurel and thyme, and cedar spice give way to youthful fruit on the palate. The medium acidity, medium-minus body and medium length finish was bright and lingering. Overall conclusion? A fun and funky in a good way wine.
These two organic wines show the fun and funky side of what winemakers are doing with Grenache and Syrah in Minervois and Corbiéres. I wouldn’t guess the Maris Old School to be primarily Syrah, but perhaps yes that the Lo Petit Fantet D’Hippolyte has a greater proportion of Carignan.
Whether done in a traditional style or the winemaker’s preference, the Syrah and Carignan based wines of southern France are delightful and pair well with a variety of food.
The French #winophiles are chatting up Corbières and Minervois this Saturday, January 20 at 8am PT. Anyone can follow on Twitter using the #winophiles hashtag.
For more food and wine pairings, recipes, and information about these two areas check out other #winophiles below:
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm: A Classic Pairing; Revisiting Languedoc
Lauren from The Swirling Dervish: Warming Up with the Wines of Corbières and Minervois
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla: Conquering Cassoulet Alongside the 2014 Minervois le Chateau d’Albas
Martin from ENOFYLZ Wine Blog: What Grows Together, Goes Together – Slow Cooker Cassoulet Paired With Affordable Occitanie Wines #Winophiles
Jeff from FoodWineClick: Let’s Make Occitanie and Cassoulet Household Words
Nicole from Somm’s Table: Kicking Off 2018 with Corbieres and Minervois
Jane from Always Ravenous: Hearty Red Wines of Corbières and Minervois Paired with Cassoulet
David from Cooking Chat: Chicken Cassoulet Paired with Languedoc Wine
Rupal from Journeys of a Syrah Queen: Staying Warm the French Way – Cassoulet and Wine
Liz from What’s in that Bottle: Let’s Learn About Wines from Languedoc #Winophiles
Amber from Napa Food and Vine: A Tale of Two Wines
Jill on L’Occasion: Eat, Drink, Travel the South of France: Minervois and Corbières
And here at Savor the Harvest: Corbières and Minervois – Where Syrah and Carignan Shine