Wines from the Corbieres,Languedoc

By: Mike Bowditch

Firstly, where is this area? Itis based in the Languedoc, south of France. It incorporates the Aude and thePyrenees Orientales departments of the Languedoc. It is best known for itswines, but there is so much more to discover.

A holiday in the Corbières isessentially about the pleasures of wandering through almost desertedcountryside (four inhabitants per square kilometer makes it one of the emptierparts of France), under a sun, which shines for 300 days of the year. You couldspend every day on the beach, swimming, boating, or windsurfing, but it wouldbe a shame because there is much to discover in the hinterland. Food and wine in theLanguedoc also play a big part in the enjoyment of visiting the Languedoc.

The region also has well-preservedmedieval abbeys -- the most notable being at Fontfroideand Lagrasse There are also some fineexamples of Romanesque architecture, often to be seen in the tiniest villagechurches. It is the most characteristic feature of the region- namely the ruinsof the Cathar castles. The most impressive are undoubtably Quéribus andPeyrepertuse.

For the nature lover, the Corbièresare a treasure trove; there are said to be 75 different species of orchidshere, plus the typical vegetation and wildlife of the garrigue.There is amuseum of flora and fauna at Gasparetsand if you speak French well enough, you may be able to join a guided tour fromLezignan, Narbonne or Lagrasse . The bestseason for this is spring and early summer (May-June), when there is aprofusion of wild flowers, and it is not yet too hot for walking. For anyonewith reasonable French we recommend a book called Les Plus Belles Baladesdans l'Aude by Patrick Valette and Jacques Drelon, published by the Office Nationaldes Forêts (try tourist offices or local bookshops). It contains 40 walks ofvarying length and difficulty, most of them off the beaten track, all clearlyexplained and with plenty of supplementary information about plants, wildlife,and local curiosities.

During the summer (July and August), when the French and France seem all to be on holiday, there is a profusion oflocal festivities and animations, many of them free. Leather-cladrock bands playing seventies and eighties hits complete with massive soundsystems and laser shows are very popular. However there are also folk and jazzconcerts, outdoor theatre, and impressive son et lumière presentations, notablyin Carcassonne (one of the most important Cathar castles in France) and at thefour Châteaux de Lastours. If your visit coincides with the 14th of July(Bastille Day -- a national holiday in France) many towns have fireworkdisplays, some more impressive than others. The one in Carcassonne is said tobe second only to Paris in scale and splendour, and attracts up to 100,000people. Gruissan, a small fishing villageon the coast, is also developing an increasing reputation for its display,involving a sea battle on the lagoon which surrounds the town -- worth a visitif you can't face the traffic jams in and around Carcassonne.

Local markets are a delight for thekeen cook (vegetarian or otherwise) staying in self-catering accommodation orlooking for picnic food. Mix shoulder to shoulder with the French and touristsalike. Stalls are piled high with ripe melons, delicious peaches, hugemisshapen tomatoes with an incomparably sweet flavour, new crop pink and violetgarlic, every variety of goat's cheese, tubs of olives flavoured with anchovy,garlic, or chili ... Stallholders range from the charcutiers with their bigrefrigerated vans to the old lady with a table on which she lays out herhome-produced cheese, honey, and eggs. One of the best country markets is inLezignan on Wednesday mornings; and for the ultimate in profusion, a visit tothe 100-year old Halles (covered market) in Narbonnewith its 80-plus stalls is essential. Food is so varied and attractively laidout. Feast your eyes on the food, buy the food and savour the tastes.

Wineand food in the Languedoc is a vital part of the visitors’ enjoyment. Wine fromthe Corbiere has bags of character and very distinctive reds. Red wine is madeto drink young, but many wines can be kept to mature, where they boldly open upand make delicious drinking.

TheCorbieres is the largest wine growing area of the Aude. Streching from theSouthern banks of the Aude to the foot hills of the Pyrennes and down to theetangs the Corbiere massif is a breathtaking spread of vine filled plains andgarrigue and oak covered hills. Peppered with fortresses like Villerouge Terminesand Durfort and abbeys like Fontfroide and Lagrasse the Corbieres is a truelystunning part of the world.The Corbieres achieved AOC status in 1985, by thistime the area of vines had reduced down to approx 23,000 hectares (around57,000 acres) from a height of double that. Famous for its Reds there have beensome great steps forward with both it Whites and Rose. The introduction of newoak barrels- look out for "Eleve en Chene" on the labels have added agreater density of flavour to some of the better Reds with some interestingexperiments going on with Chardonnay in the Servies region. The area alsoproduces somedeliciousbiological wine.

The areaalso contains many excellent restaurants where the local food can be as variedas the andscape. It is a great area to visit and will not disappoint.

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