Minervois: press rehearsal

A brief intro to Minervois…

Underneath the glowering Montagne Noire, due east of Carcassonne, sits the Languedoc region of Minervois. It’s an impressive backdrop for an area that can produce some entertaining wines. The region refers to the village of Minerve, named after Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and patron of the arts. It’s a small, picturesque jumble of stones perched on top of a steep gorge. Its wines are as dramatic as its landscape.

A drop of white and a splash of rosé is made in Minervois but the vast majority is red, and from four principal players: Carignan, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache. To these are added a supporting cast of characterful locals including Cinsault, Terret, Aspiran, Lledoner Pelut and Piquepoul Noir. This is a hot, parched land and the concentrated grapes make rambunctious wines with Mediterranean themes of black olive, wild herbs and ripe black berries.

The reds can be riveting, but if they get too intense light relief can be found in the sweet wines made around St-Jean-de-Minervois in the far north eastern corner. These are made from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, and although full and luscious, they retain a fresh floral side that other Languedoc sweet wines don’t always offer.

Back in the centre of the region, in the foothills of the Montagne Noir, you come across the tiny village of La Livinière. The surrounding vineyards enjoy a favourable microclimate, which has led to the wines being given the elevated appellation of ‘Minervois-La Livinière’. Always red, the wines from this south-facing amphitheatre combine fullness and power with a textural finesse rarely found elsewhere in the Languedoc. The cool breezes that descend from the mountain add freshness and energy. Though usually benevolent, these winds can occasionally turn angry, building into raging tempests that lash the vineyards.

The extremes of weather haven’t put off foreign investors, with winemakers from Burgundy, Bordeaux and even further afield all arriving to stage their own productions – often to great acclaim. Names to look out for are Abbotts & Delaunay, L’Ostal Cazes, Château de Cesseras and Château Maris. At the cheaper end, the wines can have trouble containing their Falstaffian excesses, but the best are finding a broader range and more subtlety of expression. Minervois may be an ancient setting, but the wines are still developing; its best performances are yet to come.

 First published in Living France magazine.