So first of all, this article marks my 100th Friday Focus! Hard to believe this has been running for over 2 years now! Again my thanks to all of you who read my piece which would have petered out into obscurity without your support and kind words. But enough of that and onto the important thing- wine!
Today we travel to the Corbières appellation of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Languedoc-Roussillon is a huge region located in the very south-west Mediterranean coast of France. This is a huge and volumetrically significant region that runs from the Rhone River just east of Montpellier all around the Gulf of Lyon to the Spanish border. This mega-region encompasses 5 départements which are the French equivalent of states and is responsible for a whopping 25% of France’s wine. When you consider that France is usually either number 1 or 2 in terms of global production, this means that this area is responsible for a several million litres of wine per year. Languedoc-Roussillon is an incredibly diverse region, as you would expect for such a large mass of land, though it’s not just climates, soils and wine styles that differ, but the actual culture of the people who live in different sections of the south of France. The region produces pretty much every style of wine imaginable from sparkling wine, rose, reds and whites all the way to fortified wines and digestives!
Corbières is located in the western section of the Languedoc-Roussillon, about 50km from the border with Spain. The inhabitants of this appellation classify themselves as part of the Catalanpeople, a term usually associated with the peoples of Barcelona, 220km to the south. Much of their lives, from food, to music, to holidays and festivals to of course wine is based on Catalan culture- but what does that mean? The wines of Corbières are made to be drunk with the local fare, which tend to be either pork or fish stews, flavoured with the local herbs of the region and mixed with local vegetables tomato, garlic, eggplant, capsicum and artichoke. These dishes are usually rich in flavour, meaning the wines need to be robust and hearty to stand up to the food. A herbal rusticity in the reds also matches perfectly to the oregano and rosemary used in most dishes as well!
To match the varied local fare takes a team of different varieties- 19 to be exact! Some of this large and diverse list of grapes have been grown here in Corbières since before the Romans arrived and the Phoenicians lived in this area- in fact it is pretty clear these sea-faring travellers introduced many of the now-local varieties from other port towns. Red, rosé and white can be produced here from a complex melange of grapes, each with an interesting path to Corbières;
-Corbières Rouge must be made of at least 50% straight or mixed Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache Noir and Llandoner Pelut (all Southern Rhone varieties), whereas Carignan, which supposedly originated right near here and adds a rustic, dried herb note to wines may not exceed 50% of the final wine. Picquepoul Noir, Terret and Grenache Gris are allowed but cannot make up more than 25%.
-Corbières Blanc is the rarest of all wine styles, is made from Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourbolenc, Clairette, Picquepoul Blanc (Southern Rhone locals), Maccabeo (made famous as a constituent of sparkling Spanish Cava), Grenache Blanc, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (brought by the Greeks several millennia ago) and Vermentino (which originated in Sardinia just a short boat ride across the Mediterranean). Corbières Blanc can be made as a single varietal or a blend of any of the aforementioned white grapes.
-Corbières Rosé is usually made from Cinsault, Picpoul Noir, Grenache Gris and Terret Blanc, though legally can actually be made from any combination of all 19 varieties!
Corbières was granted AOC status in 1985 in recognition of its higher quality when compared to other neighbouring regions. Following this in the early ‘90s, 11 sub-regions were established which further delineated certain styles from certain sections of Corbières. As a quick summary however regions to the south and west are located right up in the foothills of the Pyrenees between 300 and 450m above sea level and produce more elegant and age-worthy wines (as you’ll see in the picture below it actually snows in this section every now and then!), whereas wines with ‘Sigean’ or ‘Durban’ on the label are located right on the water and produce more full-bodied and robust wines from sandy soils. The best of these sub-zones is the tiny 150 hectare Corbières Boutenac, which was granted its own AOC in 2005. This region is located in the very west of Corbières high in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Its poor limestone soils and high diurnal variation give the wine a life and vibrancy to match their fruity palate and warm alcohol, and locals know this section as the “Golden Triangle”.
Buyer and Seller of the Bottles