Last year, while dining with friends at Chez David in Castelnaudary, France, our waiter recommended a local wine to pair with our cassoulet: the 2013 Celiers d’ Orfee Corbieres Cuvee Sextant. There was earth and a hint of spice on the nose, rich fruit-forward flavors, and it was cheap — less than 20 euros. During the next week navigating the Canal du Midi, we discovered many more wines from the Corbieres appellation priced at 10 euro or less.
Corbieres is the largest appellation in the Lanquedoc-Rousillon region, producing nearly 50 percent of its wine production on more than 30,000 acres. Nearly all of the wines are red blends, leaving about five percent for white and rose wines. They are similar to Rhone blends with one exception. Among the five major grapes used in Corbieres blends, carignan, also known as carignane or mazuelo, is often the main varietal.
Still intrigued with this newly discovered region, I began, upon our return to the U.S., to research what was available locally and online. Surprisingly, Corbieres wines are readily accessible. It helps to know what you are looking for. I have not tasted all of the Corbieres wines described below, but, based on reviews or something that caught my attention, these are releases that I have targeted.
From a small, organic winery described as a “true one-woman show,” the carignan-dominant 2014 Clos de l’Anhel “Lolo de l’Anhel” Corbieres ($13) is a blend from limestone-laden soils, enhanced with small amounts of syrah, grenache and mourvedre. The low price reflects its profile as a serious, everyday wine. The Clos de l’Anhel winery also offers, at a higher price, the 2014 Clos de l’Anhel “Les Dimanches” Corbieres ($23), that blends carignan (60 percent), from 80-year old vines, syrah (30 percent) and grenache (10 percent), boasting rich fruit and minerality — both welcome to my palate. Les Dimanches translates to “Sundays.” This is meant to be a notable wine, reserved for special occasions.
My interest in the Michel Gassier Corbieres de Nimes Nostre Pais Red 2013 ($17) rose because the vineyards are in the AOC Corbieres-Nimes appellation, located between the cities of Montpellier, Nimes and Arles — all places that we recently visited. Because the Corbieres appellation is so large, these vineyards are within an hour of the Rhone Valley and share deep beds of limestone that influences the flavor.
The dominant grenache (45 percent) is supported by carignan, syrah, mourvedre and cinsault. With ratings in the low 90s, numerous periodicals have described perfumed aromas, complex fruit-forward flavors and spice on the finish. With the history, unique terroir, good reviews and low price, this one is worth pursuing.
On the surface, the Chateau d’Aussieres Corbieres 2013 ($30) is a typical Rhone blend. Syrah-dominant and supported by grenache and mourvedre, this wine mirrors those produced in Chateaunef-du-Pape, Gigondas and other appellations in the southern Rhone Valley. The tasting notes describe fair amounts of typical spice (pepper), herbs and toasted flavors. Of this vintage, Wine Advocate said, “Domaine d’Aussieres has turned out an incredibly classy, elegant 2013 Corbieres that checks in with the top wines of the appellation.”
For those who follow French rugby, Gerard Bertrand is a household name. After 17 years as a star in the French leagues, he returned to the family wine business in Corbieres and, recently, saw his Gerard Bertrand Corbieres 2014 ($20), a blend of syrah, grenache and mourvedre, land at the No. 55 spot of Wine Spectator’s 2016 Top 100 wines.
Since his retirement from professional rugby, Bertrand has focused on acquiring regional vineyards and refining his organic and biodynamic farming practices. I found this full-bodied release to have the complexity and layered flavors of a wine twice its price.
Wine production in the Corbieres region is expanding, and there is a growing trend to improve the wine and vineyard practices in a responsible and sustainable way. I foresee that they will soon regularly appear on local restaurant wine lists. Whether it’s your new regular midweek wine or that remarkable find, Corbieres wines may turn out to be a pleasant surprise.