This month the Winophiles bask in Occitanie – formerly Languedoc-Rousillion – and the AOPs of this rich and extensive region of southern France. January brings us to Minervois and Corbières two AOPs that are celebrated for quality, value, and authenticity.
Last spring I visited the region and have had the opportunity to write about Minervois. Due to a family illness, time this week has been spent doing the exact thing wine writers claim that this whole business is really all about: sharing moments with people we love. Though no wine has been enjoyed, the last few days with my grandmother and our family have reminded me that looking both forward and back are lovely – but being in a singular precious moment is the gift of our lifetime. Thank goodness we get to do it again and again, until the moment comes when it is no longer our turn.
I’m taking a page from the book of 80’s sitcoms – running a highlight reel epsiode, one that trips back over memory lane. I hope you’ll enjoy a few excerpts from recent L’Occasion stories about the Minervois region. In the meantime, I’ll be wrapped up in family life. Cheers!
At the Ventenac-en-Minerovois cave we were welcomed by Loïc Bousquet, who set forth to pour us several wines for us to taste. In any given tasting room, in any given winery, in any given place on the globe a person pours wine into glasses. Loïc, a Ventenac resident who learned English in Birmingham (one can tell by the most charming accented English we heard on our trip), however, made us smile. He served our small group, while being peppered with questions by a local top sommelier (a lovely woman of such poise we all wanted to impress her) and topping up wine orders for locals on their way to the weekend.
Later in evening our host Jodi, Founder of La Tour du Château, an experience-driven nest for travelers who enjoy a strong dose of luxury, suggested a wonderful method for dinner that evening, a progressive meal featuring mussels at La Grillade Du Château followed by tapas at L’oncle Jules in Ginestas after. Wine at both, bien sûr.
La Grillade is set directly on the canal, with a vision of plane trees and vines in the distance. The patio seating area is nested under a canopy of trees splashed with colorful string lights. Indoor seating is a continuation of the outside, with the benefit of a roof as well as the gorgeous canal view.
When we entered, the chef was at the huge wood-fired oven and offered a hand (actually a wrist, his hand was covered in flour) to Jodi and a friendly nod to our group. Proving life really is good, we ordered a carafe of local rosé and several steaming posts of mussels: garlic and white wine, Roquefort and Catalan-style. Avec frites. It was my night, I guess…because while eating this I watched the sunset over Minervois vineyards.
French wine, southern French wine in particular, is my nesting site. I’ve spent much time there tasting wine and I can say that much of it ticked the affordable box. Earlier this year we visited several domaines in Minervois, an appellation in the Languedoc in southern France. Situated between two beautiful cities – Narbonne and Carcassonne – and necklaced by the Canal du Midi and the Montagne Noire, this is a place of serene natural beauty. We stopped into Chateau St. Jacques d’Albas for a tasting with Martine Bonnavenc, tasting room manager and long time employee of the domaine, which is owned by Graham Nutter. Of the staff at St. Jacques, they share:
“We are a small team. Graham Nutter and his son Andrew work alongside Martine Bonnavenc in the office and the shop, while Marc Bonnavenc and Yannick Breil do most of the heavy lifting in the fields and the winery. We are assisted by our Australian œnologue Richard Osborne. Overseeing us all is Syrah, our energetic Belgian shepherd dog, who stands guard and insists we spend more time in the fields than in the office.”
Last year I interviewed Graham Nutter for a story about The Languedoc Outsiders – a group of winemakers from around the world, settled happily now in the Languedoc – in Palate Press. At that time he told me: “…Minervois [was] chosen for climate and lifestyle as well as area’s turnaround potential. Turnaround [is] slow though, rather like changing course of a VLCC oil tanker, but still surviving on lifestyle. Transition from a multinational company environment to being an independent vigneron not evident, [it] takes time and change in behaviour. Have to be hands-on and become a multitasker, but very [it is] satisfying and time certainly doesn’t stand still. ”
It doesn’t take much convincing to become charmed with Nutter’s wines and to be swept away in fresh infatuation with the Languedoc. The fact that the wines are finding better importation routes into the US and Europe is paired with the tempting reality of the price point. After tasting the rosé series at St. Jacques d’Albas, our group was ready to pay a much higher price than the €12 tag for one of our favorite bottles. And for those of us accustomed to paying big prices and making advance reservations to taste a few sips of wine, behold Tasting Mondays – held from 10:30 am to noon every Monday during July and August. The guided tour and tasting are what they call “Magic, free, no need to reserve”. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about the region and the winemaker, in preparation for the large order of wine you will like place after the tasting.
Ventenac-en-Minervois is a small village in the Languedoc, in the Occitanie department of southern France. The local cave is located on the Canal du Midi, a traveler’s dream of a waterway that was once used to transport wine across the country via barges, such as the Marie-Therese, a restored boat docked outside.
Icons of the canal include the proud rows of plane trees (oaks) that are symbolic of roads and waterways in Southern France, often dating back to Roman traditions. Many of the Canal du Midi trees, however, are being destroyed due to a canker strain virus.
The Ventenac-en-Minervois cave is taking action, with the production of a bottle of wine called Nos Nouvelles Racines (Our New Roots). Our New Roots has been released with a portion of the proceeds going directly towards replanting efforts. It is a medium-bodied blend of Carignan, Grenache Noir and Syrah which sells for €7.80.
The French Winophiles
Many of our participants take inspiration from the famous French dish cassoulet, which celebrates its very own special day on January 9th.
We’ll explore Occitanie regional culture, wine, environment, food, and travel scope with our writers. Join us on Saturday, January 20th at 10 am CST for a live Twitter chat under the hashtag #Winophiles.
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm: A Classic Pairing; Revisiting Languedoc
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
Michelle from Rockin Red Blog: Spending January in Languedoc Drinking Wine and Eating Cassoulet
Jeff from FoodWineClick: Let’s Make Occitanie and Cassoulet Household Words
Nicole from Somm’s Table: Kicking Off 2018 with Corbieres and Minervois
Jane from Always Ravenous: Hearty Red Wines of Corbières and Minervois Paired with Cassoulet
Lynn from Savor the Harvest: Corbières and Minervois – Where Syrah and Carignan Shine
David from Cooking Chat: Chicken Cassoulet Paired with Languedoc Wine
Rupal from Journeys of a Syrah Queen: Staying Warm the French Way – Cassoulet and Wine
Liz from What’s in that Bottle: Let’s Learn About Wines from Languedoc #Winophiles
Amber from Napa Food and Vine: A Tale of Two Wines
Susannah from Avvinare: Mas Du Bousquet – An Unexpected Find From Minervois
Gwendolyn from Wine Predator: Cassoulet Domesticates the Wild Wines of Minervois and Corbières
Lauren at The Swirling Dervish: Warming Up with the Wines of Corbières and Minervois
Here on L’Occasion: Eat, Drink, Travel the South of France: Minervois and Corbières