Red Wines of the Western Languedoc

Ξ September 1st, 2009 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Wine News |

Corbières, Fitou, Minervois & Cabardès; Most readers will recognise two or three of these names but I suspect Cabardès may be less familiar – it certainly was for me when I attended a recent tasting. These four French AOCs (together with the tiny Côtes de Malepère) cover the area between the cities of Carcassone and Narbonne in the southern Aude département, also known as “Cathar Country”. They are the main red wine regions of the western Languedoc (the Aude’s other red AOC, La Clape, is usually considered part of the eastern Coteaux du Languedoc) with Syrah and Grenache common to all. Of the other grapes used Mourvèdre and Carignan dominate in some but there’s a surprise appearance by the Bordeaux varieties as well – visit the Wine Doctor’s Languedoc Wine Guide for more substantial background to all these AOCs.
I came to these regions by way of NEWTS (North East Wine Tasting Society) which I attended as a guest member. The tasting was presented by one of the societies founding members, Harry Rose, and the bottles were all bought by him on a recent trip to the region. Harry gave a running commentary as we tasted the wines with stories of his trips to the wineries and some good descriptions of the local geography and terroir. Although the tasting order was influenced by price I’ve grouped the notes by AOC for easier reading.
Corbières is an enormous 15000 hectare area south-west of Narbonne and became an AOC in 1985. The region was represented here by one producer, Château Grand Moulin, and although most production is red it was a white that was poured as a prelude to the main tasting, the Château Grand Moulin Blanc 2004.
- Although a deep golden colour with a creamy, floral nose this felt light and showed a touch of oxidation. A full mid-palate was its saving grace but with little flavour, some bitterness at the end and a lot of heat on the finish it was agreed that this was not a white wine region.
We moved onto the Château reds with the Château Grand Moulin “Boutenac” 2005.
- Boutenac is one of the 11 sub-zones of Corbières and this had a soft, warm nose, with some toffee coming through. In the mouth there was little flavour at the front but a strong vanilla fudge taste from mid-palate to finish and good length. After a few minutes in the glass the toffee aroma became stronger. At the equivalent of £12 pounds this was one of the better wines of the night.
The Vieilles Vignes Château Grand Moulin 1998, 40% Grenache and 60% Syrah & Carignan was last.
- This had a sweaty, vegetable nose with a little smoky spice that turned a little sweet after a few minutes in the glass and which I found quite pleasant. In the mouth it was soft and a little flabby – easy to drink with some thin acidity and a few remnant tannins but no fruit or overall complexity, this was showing its age a bit too much for the £15 charged.
Cabardès is North West of Carcassone and was granted AOC status in 1999. At 550ha it is one of the smaller of the Languedoc regions with the local Mediterranean climate moderated by the cooling “Cers” wind funnelled in from the Atlantic. It is this that makes Cabardès (and the nearby Côtes de la Malepère) suited for “Atlantic” varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Côt (Malbec) which make up a 40% minimum of the blend with Syrah and Grenache contributing most of the rest.
Le Suc de Brau 2005 Cabardès.
- This started off with an intriguing nose; a complex mix of smoke, herbs, oak and tar which was a little extreme but I warmed to it. In the mouth things went downhill, this was a very flat wine with tannins but no fruit and an ash component throughout. After a few minutes in the glass the nose turned a little medicinal and any flavour died completely. At £7 pounds this was the least expensive red on the table but couldn’t live up to even this modest price tag.
La Sauvage Font Juvenal 2003 was the last wine poured and possibly the most powerful, living up to its savage name and in stark contrast to the first Cabardès. Harry’s commentary was equally rugged as he described a risky drive to the winery down a treacherous valley road!
- At 14% this mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Grenache had a dark colour, younger looking than the 2003 vintage on the label. The herb & tar/garrigue nose that had become the trademark for the evening was in evidence with a good dose of fruit behind it and in the mouth there was a touch of menthol with a full, balanced mouthfeel. Tannins were noticeable but relatively smooth and, of all the wines over the night, this was perhaps the only one that was too young, with another 2-5 years likely to see improvement. This didn’t stop me from rating it second best on the night and, with those extra years in the bottle, this one had the potential to be the best wine of them all, although some may say it sacrifices regional typicity for a more international style.
Minervois became AOC in 1985 and the area has 5000 hectares North East of Carcassone with producers often using Carbonic Maceration (whole cluster fermentation, as in Beaujolais) for the reds – useful for taming the tannins in the Carignan grape which is the staple of the region. In 1999 the all red cru of Minervois La Livinière was also recognised as a distinct Appellation.
Le Chai Chartrou “Signature” Minervois was the opener, a strange wine whose label pronounced AOC but had no vintage visible and a small code on the front (Syr66Gre34) suggested a purely Syrah/Grenache blend.
- This had a deep colour and a garrigue/tarry nose as many of the others did that night. It was a smooth, full wine with some signs of age (I would guess earlier than 2003) and some sweetness coming on the finish – pleasant enough.
Château Laville Bertrou Cuvée Limitée 2003 represented Minervois-la-Livinière with 65% Syrah, 20% Grenache and 15% Carignan.
- This had a warmer nose than most the others, slightly spicier and showing much better integration in the mouth with gripping tannins at the sides of the tongue and a full, smooth mid-palate. I sensed a little plum and some mocha on the finish – a complex and very well drinking wine.
Fitou is the oldest of the Languedoc AOCs dating back to 1948 and with a blend minimum of 30% Carignan these often tannic wines are supposed to be the most ageworthy of the region. Its 2,565 hectares are separated into 2 distinct zones; Fitou-Maritime on the Mediterranean coast around the village of Fitou itself and Fitou de Hautes-Corbières inland around the village of Tuchan. Tuchan is home to the large Mont Tauch cooperative and it was from this producer’s 2001 vintage that the final notes come.
L’Essentiel 2001.
- The nose was uninspiring with some subtle garrique and smoky spice aromas. A few others around the table detected liquorice (a classic Fitou aroma) but I struggled to find it. This was very drinkable but rather simplistic; smooth, few tannins to note and a soft mellow taste but a little dull with no overt characteristics. Sitting in the glass it gained a little sweetness but needed more tannin and was overpriced at £16.
In Extremis Durban 2001 is a blend of 40% Syrah with 60% Carignan and Grenache. A few of the other tasters said it was almost identical to L’Essentiel but, while I could see the similarities, for me everything was accentuated to make a far superior product.
- A tarry nose but this time with strong liquorice and a floral twist (maybe violets?) with a touch of raisins. It was very smooth in the mouth with gentle tannins showing moderate length and a touch of sweetness. For me this was the best wine of the night and a good place to bring the notes to an end.
This was my first NEWTS meeting but I suspect not my last. I was pleased that it expanded my knowledge of an area I didn’t have a lot of experience with and I’m sure this won’t be the last set of tasting notes from this group to make it onto these pages.


2 Responses to ' Red Wines of the Western Languedoc '

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  1. Mark Norman said,

    on September 2nd, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Greybeard…an outstanding detailed blog about a wonderful region of southern France…where so often it is about Bordeaux or Bungundy it was refreshing to read these tasting notes and the insights you gave.

    Thank you!

  2. Greybeard said,

    on September 2nd, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Hi Mark, glad you approve! I hope I captured the essence of the evening and maybe an idea of the region itself.
    If you’ve read any of my other posts on the site you’ll gather I cast my net far and wide when it comes to wine, both geographic and varietal. Bordeaux and Burgundy don’t get shunned, but they don’t get preferrential treatment either!

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