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Corbières


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Corbières is the main appellation of the Languedoc-Roussillon, with its wines making up almost 50% of the region's total production in 2005. The spicy, earthy red wines are made from a variety of places around the Languedoc, but tend to be surprisingly reliable in general. Although this appellation originally was thought of as a place for inexpensive, average-quality wine, growers are realizing the land's potential and this region is becoming increasingly exciting for modern, cutting-edge styles.

There are 87 villages from which Corbières wine is produced. The villages make up a total of 38,000 acres of vineyards; these acres yield over 70 million bottles in annual production, 95% red. From the two arrondissements (districts) of Carcassonne and Narbonne, and from various cantons (prefectures) within these, the villages clearly vary significantly. There are 11 terroirs which distinguish the wines.

As an appellation that is home to many of the Languedoc's most ambitious producers, Corbières is easily the most important appellation in the Languedoc. Quality varies; the best wines mix the wild red fruit of the typical GSM blend with the spicy, earthy flavors of the terrain where they are produced. Even the basic wines are capable of developing for several years, and the best can age for up to a decade.

History

Before 1985, most wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon that did not fit into a few select top communes, had to label themselves as Vin de pays d'Oc or the generic Coteaux du Languedoc. Ambitious producers not lucky enough to have land in a specifically selected commune were out of luck. As a result, the Languedoc became known for low-quality wine, and contributed to Europe's enormous "wine lake" supply glut in the 1970s. The infamous wine lake was shrunken during the 1980s as authorities tried to create better classification systems, and this reassessment led to the creation of Corbières in 1985.

It really served as a type of umbrella appellation for villages not distinct enough to have their own. As such, one would not have expected it to have a good reputation, but it almost immediately became the largest and most well-known appellation of the Languedoc-Roussillon. Since then, it has gradually overtaken the older, more established appellations, and despite many lagging offerings, has declared itself as one of the world's most ambitious appellations. Much of the appellation's potential still remains to be realized.

Climate and Viticulture

It is difficult to generalize about the Corbières climate; its size is its biggest disadvantage. But this is one of those appellations that also turns size to its advantage due to the great diversity of the climates. The best vineyards are often located on hills, where winds coming off the Mediterrean Sea cool the arid climate and cultivate flavor and body in the wines.

Corbières soil varies from terroir to terroir, but in general it is a microcosm of the Languedoc itself, with unremarkable chalky clay the most common but Rhône-like schist and fine limestone rocks in the best vineyard areas. These are generally located on limestone hills with a topsoil of schist, making a wine of exceptionally deep and rich earthy character.

Grape Varieties

Since white grapes make up only about 2% of what's grown in Corbières (still accounting for over a million bottles!) they are less important. Bourbolenc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino, and Viura are the main grapes, with little-known grapes Clairette, Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, Picpoul Blanc, and Terret Blanc allowed to together make up a maximum of 10% as "accessory grapes." Grenache Blanc is at its best here, making precise, vibrant wines.

Dozens of red grapes are allowed in the appellation in varying proportions. Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Carignan are the most common, as well as the hairy form of Grenache called Lledoner Pelut. In small amounts Cinsaut, Grenache Gris, Picpoul Noir and Terret Noir are used. The wines, which are required to be blends, must contain at least 50% GSM grapes. The percentages for Cinsaut and Grenache Gris are capped at 20% and 10%, respectively.

In this appellation, for wild, earthy character, most winemakers turn to Syrah, while Grenache gives the wine its herby, hilly essence. Mourvèdre can deepen the color and body of the wine, as can Carignan. Blended together along with some more minor grapes, these four create a remarkable wine.

Major Producers

A sample 10 producers are given that tend to rank highly for both quality and availability.

Subregions

Corbières is a large region, the kind of region which in Burgundy would have hundreds of different subappellations. But in fact there are only 11 specific terroirs, which divide up the region's land into distinct parcels.