Oenophile’s Guide to The Western Languedoc

The region of the Languedoc-Roussillon, and especially the western Languedoc, is rich in a diverse geography, unique cuisine and exciting, yet traditional, wines.

The western Languedoc encompasses the cities of Narbonne in the south, the stunning walled town of Carcasonne in the west, Béziers in the east and the central Lézignan-Corbières. We start our tour of this area in the region of Cabardès. The vineyards of Cabardès surround the picturesque villages of Aragon, Saisigne and Conques-Sur-Orbèl.

Favourites such as Chateau de Pennautier, Domaine de Cabrol, Chateau Ventenac and Chateau de Brau all produce wonderfully intense, spicy, and rustic reds using such grapes as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot for example. Cabardès is the only appellation in which Mediterranean and Atlantic (Bordeaux) grape varieties are mandatorily combined. Increasingly well-made wines reflect this.

The food of this region of the western Languedoc echoes its neighbouring areas with specialities such as cassoulet, rabbit, wild boar, venison and local sausages.  These foods are wonderful matches to those full-bodied red wines that are produced here.

Corbières is the largest region of the western Languedoc, and has a very dramatic landscape. A geological panoply of tall mountains and low valleys reach from the sea, 40 miles back into the Aude department.

The wines of Corbières are similar to those of Cabardes in that they are spicy and full-bodied with aromas of black fruits, liquorice and thyme. The grapes used are the classic ‘south of France’ varieties of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Mourverde and Cinsault. These are blended to produce the familiar wines. The region also makes a large range of white wines from grapes such as Grenache Blanc, Maccabeu and Marsanne. These make fresh, crisp and dry whites, perfect for cold charcuterie platters.

The region is also famous for it’s pâtes, especially pheasant and hare. The local menus feature lots of feathered game and grilled red meats, which are both perfect matches for the intensely flavoured wines produced here.

Fitou is a superb region for oenophiles, its wines are famously rustic, traditional and full of spice. Some excellent producers are Mont Tauch, Chateau des Eries, Domaine Lerys and Chateau de Nouvelles to name just a few. The Fitou wines are typically made from Carignan, Mourverde and Syrah grapes. Intense liquorice, vanilla and spice aromas fill the glass. The abundant game in the region is the perfect match, once again. The vineyards are tightly packed around the villages of Paziols and Tuchan. The appellation of Fitou was granted the Languedoc’c first Appellation Controlle in 1948 and hasn’t looked back, consistently producing some of France’s best wines, in my opinion.

The final destination on our tour around the western Languedoc is the appellation of Minervois. Situated in the north of the area, it has a terrain that is not as rugged as Corbiéres and probably has the most diverse wines in the western Languedoc. It showcases producers such as Chateau la Gravette, Domaine Piccinini and Chateau Maris, which make full-bodied red wines, crisp and dry whites and intensely fruity rosés with aromas of blackcurrants, cinnamon, and violets in the reds and citrus, floral characters in the whites. These are made using grapes such as Aspiran, Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Maccabeu, Marsanne and Rousanne.

I would urge anyone who is looking for inexpensive, good value, quality French wines, and does not want to pay over the odds for Bordeaux, to try the wines of this stunning region.

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Ben Austin’s website: www.benaustin.co.uk

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