Minervois: Roman Roots, Modern Wines

by Jeff Harding
Sud de France Développement
May 2012

    History

  • Minervois is one of the oldest wine-producing appellations, with vines planted by Roman legionnaires, and named after the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva (the main village is Minerve). The Minervois region was granted appellation contrôlée status in 1985, and in 1999 Minervois La Livinière received its own AOC status.
  • The word Languedoc translates to “the language of oc,” or Occitan, an old Romance language spoken in some parts of southern France. “Oc” means “yes” in Occitan and the “Land of Yes” seems a fitting nickname for such a charming Mediterranean locale.

  • Varietals

  • Blends are a requirement in the Minervois. Smoke kings Syrah and Mourvedre make up a big part of the mix, but luscious Carignan and southern classic Grenache grapes also abound.

  • Looking Ahead

  • Rock star Burgundy producers Anne Gros and her partner Jean-Paul Tollot seem to agree on the bright future of this region, buying land and making their first Minervois wine in 2008. We haven’t had a chance to taste, but are officially on the lookout.

Pride is a funny thing. Some people will brag about their new $5,000 watch, while others proudly show off the watch that cost $10 at a thrift store. And it's often the same in the wine world. Scoring a rare expensive wine at an auction is definitely exciting, but just as fun is finding a gem for under 20 bucks. Believe it or not, almost every sommelier is thrilled to share these treasures on their list, if only so they can brim with pride as you taste the wine and see the price.

Generally these finds are from lesser-known regions that don't have the cachet of Burgundy or Bordeaux. The Languedoc-Rousillon region in southern France is just such a place. Producing more wine than any other region in the world, the Languedoc has long been known for its quantity of wine, but not for high quality. Get your Wiki on to read more about the history of this region, responsible for the infamous "wine lake" in the 1970s. From that low point, French tastes shifted away from inexpensive wine and European Union subsidies helped lead this region toward a focus on better quality. And we see this continuing today.

Féline (AOC Minervois-La-Livinière)

Minervois is one of the standouts in this new wave of quality over quantity, and we first discovered it paired with a Cassoulet, the classic dish from southeast France. Smoky sausage and earthy beans are a classic pairing for the variety of styles of this region, but as grilling season is upon us, Minervois presents itself as a great value wine for summer red wine drinkers.

On May 3, the Twitterverse gave shout-outs to their favorite Languedoc wine on #LanguedocDay, hosted by Rick Bakas, and Minervois had its fair share of fans. And coming up on June 4, at the South Street Seaport in New York City, Sud de France is launching their Sud de France Festival, transforming the coast of Manhattan to a little Mediterranean oasis, with live music, great wine, and plenty of French-ified fun. We've already started celebrating, and share our thoughts with tasting notes below:

Wise Minervan Choices

Chateau Maris, "Continuité de Nature," Minervois, 2008

Chateau Maris, "Continuité de Nature," Minervois, 2008

90 percent Carignan and 10 percent Grenache evoke musky ripe red fruit on the nose, with hints of cooked meat, smoke, and African violets. Surprisingly light tannins hold on for a long balanced finish. Medium body and big fruit mingle with notes of graphite, volcanic soil, blackberry compote, and smoked walnuts. ($15 retail)

Chateau Tour Boisée, "Marielle et Fréderique," Minervois, 2010

Chateau Tour Boisée, "Marielle et Fréderique," Minervois, 2010

Mostly Grenache, with judicious blending of Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, and Mourvedre, this is classic Minervois: deep black cherry greets you, followed by a meaty texture with a subtle smokiness that requires a second sip to confirm. No problem there. ($10 retail)

Gerard Bertrand, "Le Viala," Minervois la Livinière, 2007

Gerard Bertrand, "Le Viala," Minervois la Livinière, 2007

Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan all lend a hand here, resulting in deep purple fruit married with a slightly tarry, smoked meat component. Light vegetal notes are tucked away here, like those sometimes found in good Bordeaux wines, but the dense fruit is the powerhouse, followed by smoky, peppery tannins. Seriously, get me some grilled meat! ($13 retail)

Hecht & Bannier, Minervois, 2009

Hecht & Bannier, Minervois, 2009

Mostly Syrah and Grenache, with some drops of Mourvedre and Carignan. Scents of smooth ripe blackberry and black olive ooze out of the glass, and are followed on the palate by big black fruit, currants, and light smoke. ($17 retail)