1. The Languedoc region of Southern France and the kind of wine that's made there.
2. Info on a smaller area, an Appellation d'Origine Protégée, Minervois.
3. A review of a really confusing wine from a great producer, 2010 Château Coupe Roses "La Bastide"
If we talk about the wine wild west in France, it would definitely be the Languedoc region in the south. Here, loads of "Country Wine" or Indication Géographique Protégée, (Protected Geographical Region) is made.
It's a very innovative area -- producers have the freedom to grow many types of grapes, blend them as they wish, and even put the grape names on the label. So although they completely bust out of the French tradition of naming things by place (except for Alsace), they have a leg up on the rest of France because they can market to New World consumers in a way that they understand -- Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay -- the language of grape rather than place.
Now, although most of the larger region is basic wine, there has been a great push by top producers in the smaller towns and regions to up the ante. Quietly, for nearly thirty years, they've been making wine under the stricter, smaller Appellation d'Origine Protégée. These AOP areas are more controlled -- the amount of grapes grown, the blend, and the flavors of the wine are closely monitored for the designation to be awarded.
Minervois (Mehn-ehr-VWAH), an AOP since 1985, is named for the town of Minerve where the Romans grew grapes way back when. With rivers running down the Montagne Noire in the north, the region is full of terraces in the foothills and the valleys have more fertile alluvial, stoney soils. It's a pretty diverse area.
Given where it's located, you can guess the climate is mostly Mediterranean. But at higher altitudes breezes all the way from the Atlantic can have a cooling affect. Minervois is a large area with variations in climate -- some areas are in the foothills of the Montagne Noire are cooler, some are in hotter valleys, some near the Mediterranean, and some at altitude growing on really bad soil that makes the grape struggle and get lots of flavor.
Because Minervois is an AOP, the French government mandates the recipe. For reds, Mourvédre and Syrah must be at least 20% of the blend with Grenache and local grape Lladoner Pelut making up 60%. The rest can be Cinsault (used a lot in Rosé), Carignan, and a few other local grapes.
Great story, but I'll be honest -- I've rarely seen a wine from the Minervois AOP. Normally I just see the general Languedoc wines that have weird critters or pictures on them and are iffy in quality. So when my friend at one of my favorite wine shops recommended this wine, I had to try it.
Château Coupe Roses has been owned by the same family since 1614 but the recent generation has put the bloom on the rose (BAD PUN!). The vineyards are at the highest altitude in Minervois with cool nights and a moderate temperature that allows the grapes to ripen slowly, gathering great acid and lots of flavor.
The Château makes a few different wines. The one below, which was very well-priced, launched a battle in my mouth. I gotta say, I STILL don't know what I think!!!
The Wine: 2010 Château Coupe Roses "La Bastide" Minervois
Color: Ruby, dark, thick legs
Smell: Stinky. Really stinky. If you want to smell a wine that expresses "terroir" -- pick up this puppy. It was like earth, dirt, and compost. And then I'm not sure if it's because of the name but I also smelled roses -- old dried rose petals, but roses nonetheless. I usually like really stinky wines like this so I was kind of excited to taste it.
Taste: This was almost like a mediocre quality Bordeaux, with its very earthy, dirty flavor. It was a total contraction in my mouth -- it was floral yet bitter from the strong tannins, and like black currant, over-ripe raspberry, and prune, but also like a green pepper, which is odd for these grapes. It tasted kind of like a cigarette without the filter -- pure tobacco -- and had pretty harsh mouthdrying tannins which stood out, even against the very abundant fruit.
Drink or sink?: I don't know. This wine was so freaking weird. I've never had such a mixed feeling about a wine. I loved it and I hated it. There was something appealing about the fruit with the cigarette and green pepper thing, but even I, with my love of stinky, earthy wines, had a hard time with this because it was so strong. I'm confused about my feeling on this wine. I guess I'd say, give it a go -- at minimum you'll have a fascinating time trying to describe it if your experience is like mine.
If you've had this wine, please comment here or on Facebook or Twitter. I would love to hear what other people think about this!