Minervois: A Gem Of The South
- By Nabilah Rawji
- 31 Dec 2020
- 5 MIN
- Level 201
The appellation of Minervois forms a single hillside amphitheatre of vineyards facing due south towards France’s Mediterranean coast. The region is in the western Languedoc between the cities of Carcassonne and Narbonne, roughly 30 km from the coastline. Like many of its neighbours, Minervois produces red, white, and rosé wines based on Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Vermentino, Marsanne, and Roussanne. This module will look at how the Minervois came to be, the terroir that defines it, and the people that are leading it into a new era of winemaking.
Viticulture in the Languedoc dates back to the 5th century Greek settlements of the area. Despite this long history of viticulture, a tumultuous political and economic history has hampered Languedoc's progression as a star wine region. In 1985 Minervois was established to combat the perception of the Languedoc as a region for plentiful if simple wines. Today Minervois is a leading quality subzone of the Languedoc and is continuing to evolve as its wines offer an increasingly clear sense of place.
Topographically, Minervois is set between the Pyrénées mountains to the west along the Spanish border and the foothills of the Cévennes mountain range to the north. The mountains act as a wind tunnel, alternately bringing cool dry air down from the mountains or warm humid air off the Mediterranean Sea. The principal cooling winds are the Tramontagne and Cers, while the principal warming winds are the Sirocco and the Marin. Vineyards are landscaped to use interspersed plantings of cypress and fruit trees as natural windbreaks. The winds also benefit winemaking in the region in that winds help to keep disease pressure low and circulate air within the vine canopy.
The climate in Minervois is truly Mediterranean, with sunshine, warm temperatures, and sparse rainfall. Counterintuitively, rainfall can be one of the most significant threats to viticulture as the region is prone to devastating flash floods. 2018 is the most recent year to experience such destructive flooding; the harvest had already been completed, sparing the year's wines, however many vineyards were heavily damaged.
Two subzone AOPs further delineate the region in addition to several informal subzones defined by shifts in rainfall, elevation, and proximity to the coastline.
Minervois-la-Livinière AOP was established in 1999 in the Montagne Noire in a subzone informally called Le Petit Causse. This Cru only produces red wines and is home to 39 wineries and two co-ops. As with much of the Minervois, the soils are predominantly rocky limestone and limestone-clay marl. The rainfall is a little lower than other subzones, while the mountainous landscape offers a cooling reprieve from the scorching daytime temperatures.
A second smaller AOP, Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois, is dedicated to sweet wines made from Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains. The region produces a Christmas time specialty called Muscat Noël that is bottled soon after fermentation and released at the start of December each year.
When it comes to the Minervois, understanding the producers behind the wines is as important as understanding the terroir. The region is home to nearly 200 wineries, many of which are cultivating vineyards organically, each exploring how best to express the terroir of the region. Both locals and transplants from other winemaking regions are leading the quality wine movement in Minervois.
Wines from Minervois are currently focused on blends, but many of the best producers are making varietal bottlings. Minervois AOP only permits wine blends, so varietal wines are released under one of several regional and departmental IGPs. The best way to locate these varietal bottlings is by exploring the portfolios of individual producers.