Just because you love wine, doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy a cold beer now and then. I have already spotted a slowly-developing new trend in wine tastings. Beer is served at the end of the process as a change of pace. It goes well with all the salty snacks that are offered such as roasted nuts, pretzels, and chips. Some people even pair it with cheese—the standard for wine aficionados. Given my own two-sided taste, it was not surprising that I was elated when a friend returned from a trip abroad with several beers for me to sample. He also brought some wine, as most of my friends do. They know it is my first love and perennial passion. Nonetheless, I popped the beer in my combo wine/beer fridge. It is a fancy model that I found at https://www.crackacoldone.net/ that is large enough to house both beverages at different temperature settings. Many of these are used for red and white wine, but they work very well for chilling bottles of beer. My state-of-the-art fridge was certainly a good investment. I invited the generous friend over to join me for the intended tasting. I prepared a nice meal to entice him to visit. He didn’t have to be coaxed. My reputation as a chef has reached a wide audience. I love French cuisine and have learned to cook on my many trips to Corbières. There are cooking schools all over France, especially for tourists who come to the wine regions. They are small and you get intimate attention as you learn to prepare the best local dishes. I can’t wait to share them with friends and family when I get home. The best wine tasting is accompanied by food and I know how to pair the fruit of the grape perfectly right through dessert. I learned the art from the sommeliers in fine restaurants. I always ask a million questions and want to know every detail about the vineyard, type of grape and year. If I am enamored with a particular wine, I go out and find it and pop it in the fridge. I have accumulated quite a nice collection. When it gets low, somehow I get gifts from dear friends who were on a voyage to a wine-producing country. When my friend arrived, he wasn’t surprised at the array of glasses of different sizes and shapes. We had an amuse bouche, appetizer, entrée, palette cleanser and dessert. I don’t think you can add any more courses! I had spent the entire day in the kitchen. As I retrieved the wine from the beer fridge, I asked my friend to do the honors. He opened each bottle with glee. We enjoyed the meal together and decided to vote on the best wine of the evening after the sweet dessert wine (port). We agreed on the favorite and vowed to buy more of that particular brand. This is the way I do a “wine tasting” at home. It is more a dinner party for two.
It was time to visit Corbières again. It has been far too long. I miss the beauty of the vineyards sprawling across the land when in season, green leaves embracing the deep blue sky. Never a dark cloud when I arrive. It is always a good omen. It is a far cry from the usual gnarly plants you usually see. It is time for the grape harvest. The town has a regional celebration for the big event. Tourists like me flock in droves to taste the latest offerings of the local wineries. As many times as I have been to France, I have not been to all the wineries around Corbières. I like to take my time and savor the wines of each one. I can easily spend a day, talking to the owners, having wine tastings and enjoying lunch. A walk through the vineyards is always on my list. It is not an experience you want to rush. There is a protocol to it involving palette cleansing and the inevitable purchase of a case or two. Thus, some wineries remained on my must-visit list and I rented a villa with a close friend in the middle of the prime territory, so I could be in walking or biking distance. I hoped it would be picturesque sitting amid the vines in full bloom. Picturesque it was. As we drove up, I was aghast at the charm of the exterior. It was so quaint all done in a soft sand color with peach trim. It was traditional country French with heavy wood beams and accents of handmade tiles. There was a stone walkway and a plethora of flowering plants. It was utterly charming, and I couldn’t wait to see the inside. I noticed a patio on the side of the house with several comfortable-looking lounge chairs. There was a table with a giant umbrella, so you could have a meal outside and enjoy the weather and lovely scenery. I was in heaven. My friend had a big smile on her face. We got out of the car and proceeded to the front door which had been left open for us. We each had small travel bags. No sooner had we set them down, then we were inundated with a strange smell. Was it “old house” mustiness? Was it a dead animal? No, it was stale cigarette smoke. Perhaps the caretaker was a chain smoker and indulged freely in the house. No matter. It was unacceptable, and we considered moving. Talking to the rental agency, they promised to remedy the problem immediately and that there would be No More Smoke Smell, or we could change our minds. That very day, they had a crew scrubbing and cleaning. Best of all, they opened all the windows and doors. It was fresher already. A few doses of air deodorizer, a plugged-in air purifier, and a few burning candles did the job. We were ready to move in and begin our adventures. Wineries, here we come!
Let’s talk about wine. Forget Napa and Sonoma and all other wine-growing regions of the U.S. Corbières, France is the spot. Get on board with this best of the best locations for wine production. It is at the top of the list of the oenophile’s choices, especially for their fabulous red. The rosé isn’t bad either, not to mention the white. When it comes to fine wine, France is still the Queen. The climate is perfect to grow the world-renown grapes. The soil is the perfect receptacle for the vines. I spend as much time here as I can on vacations with other wine connoisseurs from all parts of the globe. Sometimes I overindulge in the food and drink of the region. It is so mouth-watering and you can’t find it back home. Fine dining can pack on the pounds and sooner or later you have to take action. You have several choices. You can stop your intake or at least reduce it a lot. You can leave the area and leave the temptation behind. No, they do not provide fat-free meals in gourmet land. I don’t think there are many gyms nearby in the countryside, at least they are not in any travel guide. If I stay for a long time, I request a rebounder in my hotel suite. This is not always easy, but with the new popularity of small portable trampolines, it is becoming a possibility. For years I had to make due with long walks and a bit of stretching on the outdoor patio, the one with the stellar views. I throw a ball to a friend, do some lunges, and lift weights until I feel a burn. There is a bicycle at the inn and it is a wonderful change of pace and you can explore the fields and sights. Stop at a vineyard for a wine tasting and a few crackers with cheese. Don’t go too far, however, if you are on a campaign to lose weight. When I first started to read rebounder reviews and exercise guides online, I had no idea how effective it would be. If I stuck to it on a regular basis and jumped for at least thirty minutes, I would sweat and eventually show weight loss. It has been the perfect answer to my prayers. I can have fun in Corbières and still stay fit. Try it yourself whether you are in France or not! We all tend to overdo it from time to time at home or in a special location. It is amusing and easy on the joints. Combine it with any gym regime for an extra calorie burn. Given my willingness to jump like a fool, I can enjoy my favorite wine region to my heart’s content. No one wants to kill the fun on a vacation. When I moved the rebounder to the public patio, I found that the other guests gathered around and wanted to take a turn. The hotel may keep the trampoline there long term.
As a self-styled wine aficionado, you can bet that it is the focus of the meal when I entertain. In fact, I promise my guests a real wine pairing. This involves a different wine for each course so that four are usually selected for one sitting. Each one should be radically different. I mix different regions, even countries at one dinner party. Hopefully, I will be introducing something new. Tantalizing the experienced palate is the goal of the evening. Guests are not invited to my Facebook events if they don’t prefer vino. If they adore beer or hard liquor, they don’t get the privilege of tasting something special from my wine cellar. I am lucky to have the space for such a luxury in my basement. It is important that the bottles are kept at the right temperature. White goes in a special fridge set for this type. Reds can thrive at room temperature, even if it is a bit on the cold side. Visits to my favorite vineyards in France have kept me in reds, whites and rose for years. I kept the cellar well stocked so that I can share it at a moment’s notice. Most of the time, I prefer to plan ahead and prepare a home-cooked French meal. Food and wine together are a heavenly experience. I learned this when visiting Corbières. In fact, I learned a great deal about grapes, soil, climate and winemaking. Subtle and not so subtle difference are apparent when you go on a wine tour in France. It was a real eye opener and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the fruit of the grape. For me, there is no better vacation on earth, not even the shore. Getting ready for guests is a lot of fun. I am glad that I just had a new dishwasher installed to wash my elegant wine glasses. They get dusty when sitting on the display shelf. The new appliance does a great job ridding them of spots. There is nothing worse than seeing lime residue when sipping your treasured wine. I rinse them first with the new Grohe faucet (https://www.kitchenfaucetdepot.net/grohe-faucet-brand-review/) I had installed at the same time. As long as I would have disruption in the kitchen, I might as well get an upgrade at the sink. A faucet is used daily, more than anything else in the kitchen except maybe for the revolving refrigerator door. Wine is my passion and entertaining is an offshoot. I am almost as interested in the menu for a party as I am in the type of wine. The process is rewarding and the comments of the guests as they leave are the cherry on the sundae. You don’t have to go to extremes to enjoy wine. I also like to sit quietly and read a book while sipping a glass of fruity chardonnay. The warmth of a red is perfect by the fireplace on a cold winter night. Wine is perfect any time of the year.
How fortunate we are to be sitting outside in Corbières on a gorgeous balmy night, relaxing as we sip our favorite regional wine. I reach for a pear and get a glimpse of the sky. I am enthralled. The scenery is more than divine. My mind is quiet and my body peaceful. We sit and watch the light grow dark, changing the landscape dramatically. You can’t imagine this region unless you see it for yourself: the sandy beaches and the gorgeous deep blue sky. The air is crisp and clear. The vineyards are more than picturesque and form the backdrop of our outdoor meals. There is always wine. This area in France is known for its superior production and there are many choices. I feel like celebrating every day that I am lucky to be here. Sitting on the patio with friends is a luxury available in this area. We have met many people who love the wine as much as we do. A shared meal is the best way to bond and get to know one another. We discuss some of the special reds and vow to go to a wine tasting tomorrow. We have been to many, but each one is different. There are new people and a variety of snacks to accompany the wine of the day—cheeses, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, olives, honey, and jam. Talk is easy and breezy as we listen to the strains of a classical violin playing over the outdoor speakers. While I always noticed the music, I didn’t notice the speakers until now. Suddenly, they are right here, pumping out the perfect selections for sipping wine and eating fruit. What a great idea. I guess I thought that the music was magic. Well, I do know that this vineyard is beyond earthly. Being a wine gourmet is a special privilege. Wherever you go in the world, you have your favorite beverage. There is so much to learn about the grapes, the soil, the weather, and the oak barrels. I want to understand aging and why different wines have various undertones. They can be fruity as in apple, melon or pear, have an herbaceous aroma, taste like citrus or honey. Wine has “body”—from light to rich. There is no end to the words used to describe the distinct taste. Wine can be aromatic or floral as well, also spicy or earthy. These tastes come the unique grapes and the soil in which they are grown. Hence, the importance of the region—California, France, Spain, or Italy. Being a wine lover means constantly expanding your palate and learning new ways to savor a red or a white. You may call my husband and I wine enthusiasts. I love this fancy designation. Wine buffs is okay too. Pairing wine with cheese is an entirely different dimension. It adds immensely to the experience. Learning about cheese takes as much effort as discovering the essence of wine.,
There are many things in the Corbières region that will take your breath away. It is an area rich in history and culture, and worth an extended visit. You may come for the wine but you will walk away appreciating so much more about this wonderful area of France. Here you will find a little more detail about this wonderful place. It is easy to get to, centered halfway between the medieval city of Carcassonne and Narbonne’s lively streets. It has a variety of landscape, from beaches to forest valleys and rocky hillsides. Part of Languedoc, an area known as the “crossroads of Europe,” it has history and a variety of historic culture everywhere you turn. And as a crossroads, it is also accessible from major roads from other places such as Germany or Spain. While it can get hot in the late spring and summer, closing in at 35°C some days, clouds will roll in and spectacular thunderstorms provide relief from the heat. However, the restaurants in the smaller towns you will encounter will likely have easier to access hours during summer holiday months, especially places nearer to the coast. If you visit outside of popular travel dates, you may need to stick to larger cities. However, the more north you travel, the holiday stretches from May through September and you have a little more time to work with. In winter, you will be happy to note that the weather rarely gets to freezing. Snow is a rarity and, as such, a novelty. A word of caution, however, driving can become difficult. Roads in the Corbières area can be old, and are often dirt or gravel. Even the locals are unused to driving in inclement winter weather and frequently find themselves in ditches. You can spend your days in churches built in the Roman style or even Cathar castles but you will be always surrounded by natural beauty. The vineyards here look like they have been here forever, nothing grows well but the grapes. And the grapes that grow here, and have been growing here since Roman times, have found their heaven thanks to the aforementioned weather. There will be many vineyards offering tastings during the heavy tourism periods, it is worth a call-ahead to be sure that they will be properly staffed to assist you if you are looking for a tasting or a tour. You will feel like you are in another time or another world in Corbières. A place that is more fun and yet more peaceful, more traditional and yet brimming with life, proud of the past and yet striving for the future. Spend time admiring the architecture and history, the culture and its people. Explore the robust wines, enjoy the cuisine, lounge on the coast, and be sure to enjoy all that Corbières has to offer.
I am an oenophile or a connoisseur of the fruit of the grape. Wine is my passion. I truly enjoy all aspects of wine, from the grapes growing in the sun to the pressing of the fruit, right through the fermenting process. On a trip to the Corbières region, I fell in love with its sandy beaches, beautiful blue sky, and its superior red wines. I spent many an enjoyable July day relaxing by the water, and my evenings dining and sampling some of the best regional wines. I want to revisit and learn more about this important wine region of southern France. In this blog I will share my experience with you. Corbieres is an “appellation,” or name of the famous Languedoc-Roussillon wine country. The area is productive and turns out extraordinary red, rose, and white vintages. The red right now are receiving the most critical attention for the rich, herb-scented flavor. The grapes are famous in the region: Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Carignan. Check your wine list the next time you are in a fine restaurant. The wines of France are well respected and Corbieres stands out in my mind. It is not a huge area, covering 37 miles south and west of Narbonne. But as with all the best wines, the land is perfect for grape cultivation given the terrain and climate. I don’t know about you, but I like to know about a wine’s origins. I have been known to search for a map online as I drink. To me, knowledge enhances the gustatory experience. While luxuriating in this colorful region, a friend and I went on many wine tasting tours that included walking around the vineyards. I loved every minute, but I paid the price. I wasn't wearing the most comfortable shoes and I certainly regretted it. A long day in the vineyards demands a foot massage right after. There are so many health issues that can be cured, including the ones that are listed here: https://www.highermassage.com/health-issues-can-improved-foot-massage/. I can’t make another step without it, even if I am lured by a reservation at the best restaurant in town. It is so picturesque in Corbieres, wherever you roam, and I was obsessed with taking pictures to post on social media. My hope is to inspire other wine lovers to visit the region. Even if you have been to many foreign wine-growing regions, you will be impressed here. A foot massage is the savior of many a traveler and if you get a small, portable model that works on batteries, you can take it with you. If you are walking cobblestone streets or trekking through fields, your feet will get tired and sore. Even a mini device can work wonders and provide enough relief to keep you going. It is as important as that tiny electric fan you keep in your purse or the heat pads when it is cold. You can get all these things in any travel shop or the appropriate section of a department store. If I my batteries go dead and I am dying, I have a small wooden dowel that is covered with small spikes. I place it under each foot and proceed to roll. Heaven!
The varied landscape of the Corbières vine growing region is divided into 11 different terroirs, a word that describes the combination of growing conditions (climate, soil, environment, etc.) that gives wine its distinct personality. The 11 terroirs are Serviès, Montagne d’Alaric, Lézignan, Fontfroide, Lagrasse, Boutenac, Sigean, Termenès, Saint-Victor, Durban, and Quéribus. Here is a brief notation on each. Serviès is a fertile area located in a valley between mountains and a plateau. Most of the villages here are picturesque places near the river, tempting people who pass by to visit. Thanks to the lush conditions of the land, it is an area of more than just vineyards. Montagne d’Alaric is largely ruled by the long, striped mountain that gives this terroir its name. When it is humid, the townspeople say that Alaric is wearing his hat, a beautiful phrase. This area can be so dry in the summer that it necessitates fire watchers. Considered the capital of the Corbières, Lézignan is home to the headquarters of many local organizations. There is a bustling Wednesday morning market. It is an active location to visit, and a place where you can sample many of the local wines. The very old town of Narbonne is located in the nearby terroir of Fontfroide. The beautiful flower-lined Canal de la Robine is worthy of a visit, and you can also stop at the century-old covered market, Les Halles. There is also plenty of Roman culture on display at The Musée Archéologique. Nearby is a small town considered one of the most beautiful in all of France, Lagrasse. Filled with lovely medieval houses and linked by two bridges over the River Orbieu, artists and potters flock to the area’s natural beauty. There are waterfalls at Ribaute, craft fairs, and an Abbey tour as well as the amazing scenery and architecture. Boutenac may not be similar in landscape to the surrounding areas, but it is home to many century-old Carignan grape vines. Considered the epicenter of Corbières fine wines, it is a very beautiful pastoral place indeed. The terroir of Sigean is large. The coast, at Gruissan, is perfect for a beach holiday. It is home to resorts, quaint fishing towns, a lagoon, excellent restaurants, a safari park, wine cooperatives, night clubs, and ancient churches. Steep, scrubby hills bisected by wooded gorges mark the terroir of Termenès. Lovely castles and ruins dot the rural landscape. Villages and towns are few and far between here. In my belief, the Hermitage de Saint-Victor is home to one of the most spectacular views in all of the Corbières. You can see beautiful hills lined with castles, with the blue of the Mediterranean on one side and Pic du Canigou on the other. Although a large terroir, there are few villages and even fewer roads. Durban was once a winter pasture of herds of sheep, but is now more of a deserted wilderness. Honey and grapes are the two items produced here now, and Durban is a worthy village to visit to fully appreciate the growing conditions of some of the oldest and best grape vines in the region. The last terroir, Quéribus, is home to the Chȃteau at Peyrepertuse. This castle looks crafted right out of the mountain itself. There are several other castles in the area, and the land is rich with the history of the Cathars. I hope these brief introductions inspire you to read more about these terroirs and entice you to visit.
Grapes are the most important ingredient in most wines. Their flavor determines the success and value of each vintage. Picking grapes before they are fully ripened lowers the alcohol content and adds acidity. Grapes with more time on the vine are less acidic and contain more alcohol. They often taste sweeter. But if the grapes are picked too late in the season, winemakers often add acidic flavoring to improve the taste and must add water to lower the alcohol content. The weather from one year to the next can have a serious impact on how the that year’s vintage tastes. Sometimes bad weather forecasts force the winemaker’s hand. They must harvest their grapes earlier than they would have hoped. Most of the 11 terroirs in Corbières grow Carignan grapes. This particular type of grape is quite old and also very common around the world. They became popular for winemaking because they have a very high yield compared to other grapes. These types of grapes thrive in South France with its warm climate. The summer heat found throughout the Corbières region ensures that the grapes reach full ripeness. Carignan grapes are used to make red and rosé wines. To make any type of wine, at least two varieties must be used. There is a formula. A principal grape (or variety of grapes) must make up at least 40% of red and rosé wines but no one variety can be more than 80% of the mixture. For white wine, there must also be a 40% majority in the blend but there is no cap. Therefore, other varieties of grape must be grown as well. Often, it will be Cinsaut, Syrah, Mourvèdre, or Grenache. It could be a combination of these as well. Cinsaut (also Cinsault) is a variety of grape that is incredibly heat-tolerant. It is widely used in rosé wines, adding softness to blends with grapes like the Carignan. Syrah is another grape that improves in the heat – bringing a more full bodied and spicy flavor, something the wines of this area are known for. Another place this wine grows well is Australia, where the grapes can be known under another, more familiar name, Shiraz. Adding Mourvèdre grapes to a blend creates a higher alcohol content and more tannic wines. This variety of grape also thrives in the heat but does like adequate water. It is a popular grape to blend with both Syrah and the Grenache, a combination known together as “GSM.” Mourvèdre grapes help attain better coloring, a fruitier flavor, and adds tannin. One other grape grown in the region that I will discuss briefly is the Grenache. It grows well in this area of France because it is another grape variety that likes dry and hot conditions, and takes longer to ripen than other types of grapes. When Grenache grapes are added to a blend, it adds a delicious berry flavor and a spicy edge. The next time you look at a wine label, see if you notice any of these grapes listed -- especially if the wine was produced by a vineyard located in one of the terroirs of Corbières.
If you plan to visit the Corbières you will need a place to stay. You will find a good variety of places throughout the region. Here I will give you an idea of what is available to help you decide what type of accommodation you would like. If you have high standards or are looking for luxury, the city of Narbonne has several hotels that will meet your needs. If you would like to be away from the cosmopolitan bustle of Narbonne, you can travel about 15 minutes to stay at Le Relais du Val d’Orbieu. This 3-star hotel, centrally located to many of the Corbières vineyards, has well-appointed rooms on a large parcel of wooded grounds. For a scaled-back but still nice stay, there are many country hotels across the area. The different terroirs will have a variety of accommodations that you can choose from based on scenery, proximity to attractions, or anything else you may desire for a perfect holiday. There are inns, typically known as Auberges, and Bed and Breakfasts – chambres d’hôtes – throughout the region. These places will give you more exposure to locals and are great for those interested in learning more about the culture, cuisine, and sights of your holiday destination. For example, some bed and breakfast hosts invite the guests to join them for the main meal of the day. This is known as Table d’hôtes, and it is a truly lovely experience. If you want to stay somewhere and feel like a real native, you may try one of the many gîtes, a furnished apartment or vacation home. Overseen by Gîtes de France, the organization grades each place on a scale of one to four épis, or ears of corn, to help you choose the accommodation that is right for your needs. A gîte with one ear of corn usually will give you access to a fridge and the ability to cook food. Alternately, a gîte with the highest rating of four likely has a garden or yard, and many more appliances. Usually there will be a well-equipped kitchen with a dishwasher, televisions, and a laundry room. It is said that the best gîtes can be found in Mouthoumet. An alternative option that might appeal to you, especially in the summer months, is camping. Camping is quite popular in France, making most camp grounds surprisingly well-equipped. Some large sites have amenities like bars and shops within them. Camping is an especially good option for those hoping to be near the coast, however these are the sites that fill quickly. Be sure to plan ahead! Camping in areas that are not designated campsites is not a good idea. The arid climate creates a very real fire risk, and the locals take these threats seriously. A travel agent familiar with the area is the best way to find something that will be perfectly suited for your needs. I hope you find your stay a pleasurable one and return for years to come.
Not originally known for high-quality wines, this area has seen a resurgence in quality over the last few decades and it has made its mark on the wines of South France. Now known for its well-crafted and finely balanced red wines, the Corbières has become a significant and noteworthy appellation.
Its warm summers and late harvest season have been a blessing for vintners in many places in this area, where not many other crops – or vegetation of almost any kind – dare to grow. Thanks to the variety of landscapes found in the Corbières, the wines produced in the region sing with an abundance of different tannins, a range of colors, and significant depth. A broad spectrum of flavors in different price ranges exist. I would like to direct you to some of the best wines from this area in recent vintages.
Gerard Bertrand, from the Boutenac terroir, makes a very well-received Carignan-Syrah blend – La Forge. This cherry colored wine, with sweetness and spice, comes from vines that are a century old. The grapes are picked by hand, blended, and aged in oak barrels for a year. It is not pressed or filtered before the bottling process, and is stored for another 12 months before released for sale. La Forge pairs well with lamb, classic Mediterranean dishes, or grilled meats. Depending on the vintage, this can also be one of the more expensive wines of the region.
A well-balanced mix of price and flavor is the organic Corbières Rouge “Rozeta” wine made by the young and passionate Maxime Magnon. This wine is comprised of mostly Carignan grapes, but also blends in the flavors of Grenache, Syrah, Grenache Gris, Macabou, and Terret. The fields where these grapes grow are between 50 to 60 years of age and consist of limestone and schist, and are fertilized and weeded naturally by sheep. As such, lamb does complement the flavors of this wine nicely.
A popular wine from this region is Chȃteau D’Aussières. It is quite affordable but has received multiple awards for different vintages, most recently a Bronze Decanter World Wine Award last year. With a ripe fruity taste and rich intense flavors, the ratio of grapes vary from vintage to vintage. It is traditionally a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvèdre grapes in proportion to climate conditions for the harvest year. Serve as an accompaniment with Osso Buco or other lamb dish.
The vintners in this area have used their expertise and environment to make some of the best red wines France has to offer. Take a look at your local wine seller’s or ask the sommelier at your favorite restaurant – they will be able to direct you to a lovely wine from the Corbières that will be both pleasing to your palate and perfectly accompany any meal. Santé!