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.