Today’s post is about a wine from an area in the Languedoc called Minervois. Initially it was supposed to be part of a larger blogger group chat called the French #winophiles who are diving into the sunny wine regions of Corbières and Minervois this Saturday, January 20th. The area is nestled between the mountains and the sea in the extreme southwest of France. They are having a discussion on Twitter at 11 am ET. I’ll be following along, using the hashtag #winophiles and chatting although somehow I missed the boat this time around to participate. In any event, it’s been a great way to refresh my memory and understanding about the wines from this area. I had completely forgotten that a couple of my favorite sparkling wines, Crémant de Limoux and Blanquette de Limoux are from this region. I had also neglected to think of all the Vin Doux Naturels made from Muscat à Petits Grains Blanc that hail from this area: Muscat de Lunel, Muscat de Mireval, Muscat de Frontignan and Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois.
As a result of my complete lapse of memory about what is produced in Languedoc, I concentrated only on Minervois and decided to try to find a 100% Carignan. It turned out to be next to impossible to find one, although I did end up locating two. Firstly because in order to have the Minervois AOC designation, Carignan can only be a maximum of 40% of the blend. It is considered a secondary grape in Minervois but a primary one in Corbieres.
I had another limitation to my search, one of the wineries I have worked with in the past called Vinadeis is a huge producer in this area. I never write about wines from people I work with and have been paid by therefore, Vinadeis which is perhaps the largest cooperative in France, was out. They are enormous and control 45 estates and châteaux and 11 co-operative wineries.
Another huge producer in the area is Gerard Betrand. I met him many years ago at an amazing lunch he hosted for 50, yes 50 journalists at Per Se. It was a thrilling event. He is a former Rugby player and is quite dynamic and interesting. I remember the event and the grandeur but I don’t have those tasting notes on hand so I decided to go back to square one.
I looked around at my local stores, online and those that deliver from other parts of the city. What I found was a real lack of available Minervois and Corbieres. I also found the prices to be exceptional, often around $10.
Then I happened on a local shop where I don’t often go, and lo and behold they were doing a tasting of a Minervois, Mas Du Bosquet last night. It felt as if it couldn’t be a coincidence. I bought it for around $12 from the importer whose company is called Fr+olish – one owner is French and the other is Polish.
The wine was very appealing with a deep ruby core, dark berry fruit, muted alcohol although it said 14% abv, spice and hints of garrigue came through on the palate as well. It had length and was nicely balanced. Can’t beat that price either. I couldn’t find too much information on the wine on their site but the bottle says 70% Syrah, 15% Grenache and 15% Carignan.
I found out while reading through the Wine Scholar Guild manual for the French Wine Scholar program that Minervois La Livinière is considered one of the Cru wines of the Languedoc. The first wine I tried to buy was from Domaine Khalkhal Pamies – Kalys Minervois and was 100% Carignan but my local store no longer carried it. I love Carignan and I had read that previously people made wines from 100% Carignan in this area but that most had been grubbed up and replaced by Syrah. The spicy Syrah notes were evident in this wine as well but I do feel Carignan adds more of the garrique notes of rosemary, lavender and Mediterranean herbs I so love.
As I was saying, I learned that the word garrigue actually comes from this region. The limestone soils that are found here are called garrigue. They are poor soils where nothing grows except Mediterranean shrubs and a certain tree called a dwarf Kermès oak tree. Garrique in Occitan mean oak. Occitan is the ancient language of this region. In another part of my life, I work with an Italian-Swiss institution, the Balzan Foundation, that gives out prizes in the sciences and the humanities. One of the winners, a professor named Michel Zink won for his study of French and Occitan languages in 2007, the first year that I began collaborating with them. That was the first time I had heard of “Oc” as a language.
Apparently the soils in the Languedoc are very complex with both ancient and newer soils brought by winds, erosion and volcanic action and the like. The climate is more consistent and is considered Mediterranean. There are three different topographical areas: coastal plains, hillsides and mountains and what they call the Atlantic Corridor. The grape varieties that are used are both international and traditional from southwest France.
I learned so much by writing about this wine that I realized how interesting this region is and how affordable and delicious many of the wines are. I went a little crazy and ordered Corbières Rouge “Réserve la Demoiselle,” Fontsainte 2014, Minervois Rouge “Marielle et Fréderique,” La Tour Boisée 2015, and Minervois “Le Régal,” Le Loup Blanc 2012 from Astor Wines. I’m excited to do more tasting of these amazingly affordable and versatile wines. Like many others, I have long thought of Languedoc as a region of Cooperatives, bulk wine and IGP Pays d’Oc wines, France’s most important IGP. When I did work for Vinadeis, I discovered how wrong I was to discount the cooperative lines. Now I am rethinking everything about Languedoc.
I made a meat sauce last night to take the chill out of this frigid winter air. The wine was a great complement to it as well as to the vegetable soup I had made the day before.
I’m looking forward to exploring more about the Languedoc. I realized that I have spent time on the border as a teenager in Nîmes, Arles and Gard. I’ve always wanted to visit the cities of Carcassone and Perpignon. I’m excited for a future trip. France was my first love before I discovered Italy. I was a French major in college and traveled all over but those two cities were ones I missed. It sort of feels like everything is falling into place for a visit to the region. Now I just have to figure out when and how to do it.
The French #winophiles are chatting up Corbiéres 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:
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
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