Languedoc’s Sweet Spot: Corbieres

The ebullient Herve Gantier of Domaine Ste. Eugenie in Corbieres paid us a visit in San Francisco a few weeks back, and we had a rollicking good time. While Herve resides in Burgundy and possesses encyclopedic knowledge of that region and great affection for its wines, he recently set up shop with a couple of buddies to make wine in the Languedoc, specifically in the district of Fontfroide, considered by Herve to be the “sweet spot” of appellation Corbieres. An all-round bon vivant, Herve embodies the best of both his homes, with his Burgundian passion for wine and fine dining, as well as his rustic wit and appreciation of the joyously sun-drenched south.Ste. Eugenie’s Corbieres La Reserve, their top cuvee, combines 30% Carignan (from 60+ year old vines), 40% Syrah and 30% Grenache (from 25-46 year old vines). After blending, 20% of the wine goes into new barrels and the rest into first and second fill barrels from Jayer Gilles (!) for approximately 18 months. Oak, however, does not dominate; luscious black raspberry fruit emerges on the nose with a strong whiff of an array of spices both savory and sweet. Each time I taste this wine, fond nostalgia for the best cassoulet I enjoyed in nearby Castelnaudary many moons ago arises, not to mention the breathtaking views of medieval Carcassonne. Yes, the wild, windswept Languedoc tugs at the heartstrings in a unique way, and so does Herve’s Corbieres.

Corbieres is one of the largest AOCs of the Languedoc, and suffered a bad reputation for many years for its insipid, high yielding juice that primarily slaked the thirst of northern France. However, many committed growers have begun to revise that reputation by respecting their one truly special raw material: old vine Carignan. Throughout the 1980s, growers around the Languedoc were offered governmental stimulus to rip out their Carignan in favor of Grenache and Syrah. You see, Carignan itself suffered (and to a certain extent, continues to suffer) a bad rap as a high-yielding trash grape. The locals often refer to it as “La Pisseuse” (I’ll let you translate that for yourself), due to its ability to emit copious amounts of juice. And yes, it is a vigorous vine in its youth, but as the vines age, yields decrease dramatically to produce dark, rich, concentrated fruit, as well as the mysterious, exotic spice that we all crave in southern French wine. So, hats off to Herve and his crew for their nurture of their 65-year-old Carignan, and the utterly delicious, captivating wine they create from it. A further note about Corbieres: despite the groundswell of quality in the region over the past two decades, it remains very well-priced overall, and offers some of the best wine values anywhere. At a recent consumer tasting of this wine, someone remarked that if this wine were made in California, it would cost $50. Although stylistically quite different from many a Cali Rhone blend, this remark hits it on the head: we challenge you to find a wine anywhere with so much profundity and character for only $16.49 or $14.02 with the 15% case discount! Patrick Mitten


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One response to “Languedoc’s Sweet Spot: Corbieres

  1. Pingback: Delicious Wine Making Made Easy Review | Cooking Recipes

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