Corbières -- Everyday Brilliance!
The essence of a thing, the soul of a person or character of a place isn’t expressed so much in its striking qualities, its notoriety or its shining moments as it is in it the everyday, “normal” aspects of its nature. Or put differently, real magic -- true extraordinariness – is woven right into the fabric of ordinariness. Think about that…
In terms of wine, this idea is probably no better expressed than in Corbières, one of the largest appellations. Interestingly, Corbières lies in the heart of southern France’s Languedoc region, which, until the late 90’s was renowned as France’s “wine lake” the source of oceans of mass-produced, generally unremarkable wine.
Although it’s been in just the past couple decades that the reputation of wines from both Corbières and the Languedoc have changed, the evolution in quality began several decades earlier, as many independent, family-owned growers began to make wine, rather than sell their grapes to cooperatives or corporate producers. While the Languedoc and Corbières are still the source of significant quantities of bulk wine (the Gallo company’s now infamous “Red Bicyclette” for instance), the reputation of both is steadily growing as a source of terroir - driven wines of particularly great value. Meanwhile, a growing number boutique producers are pushing the proverbial envelope with ultra small yields and intensive viticultural practices.
Although the nouvelle vague of artisanal growers are producing wines that are intriguing expressions of the appellation, it’s heart and soul are found in the small, independent domaines familiales¸where the focus is on producing wines that are an honest, but affordable taste of their individual terroirs. We’re talking wines that pay the bills for the growers, everyday wines for ordinary people who have bills to pay, honest wines with soul that bring plenty of character to the table. Wines that are literally the blood of the earth, made by people who are the salt of it.
(Lucky for you, I just happen to know where you can find lovely examples of affordable, delicious Corbières). Château Maylandie and Château Ollieux Romanis both produce an array of outstanding white, rosé and red wines that range from the aforementioned “ordinary” offerings, to small cuvées of ultra-quality wines from select vineyard parcels. You’d be hard-pressed to find more everyday dinner companions more interesting or possessing more character than the “appellation” wines from either. Both offer generous aromas and flavors of dark berry fruit, with the sweetness of ripe fruit nicely balanced by notes of grape skin that segues to notes of garrigues, dusty minerals, Mediterannean pine, savory herbs and white pepper. To drink either is to experience the soul of Corbières – wild, heady, a little bit racy, simultaneously verdant and arid, scoured by the icy Northwest wine in winter and Mediterannean breezes in summer. But why take my word for it when you savor for yourself? After all, it’s the next best thing to being there!