Posted by: tomciocco | August 9, 2014

RED MINERVOIS: A BIG WINE FROM A BIG REGION

Of all of France’s viticultural regions, Languedoc is the most sprawling and also likely the one that currently holds its best kept secrets. Broken into many patches of land across the map beginning near Nimes in the east, and reaching all the way to the Spanish border, this extensive region is undoubtably France’s hottest, driest and sunniest viticultural areas, but like any wine-growing region that extends for the hundreds of miles that the Languedoc does, this area contains scores of designated appellations that within the overarching Mediterranean conditions, contains a vast number of permutations in terroir.

Until only about 20 years ago, Languedoc was France’s main source for powerful, rustic (almost exclusively red) wine made for jugging and drinking in tumblers at picnics or barbecues. As a rule, the Languedoc is nothing short of a paradise for the vine – full fruit ripening is easily achieved year in and year out, the very dry conditions dramtically curtail problems with insect pests and shut out any issues with rot, molds or mildew almost completely. But not surprisingly for such a bountiful, countrified place, the old guard vignerons loved to capitalize on their good fortune and grow as much fruit in their vineyards as the canes and trunks of their vines could support. For these old farmers, more was always better. Unfortunately, getting quantity to coincide with quality is not easy to manage, so for centuries Languedoc was relegated to the production of thick, alcoholic bulk wines.

But as the old guard of growers and winemakers now begin to pass into the great winery in the sky, new blood, both local and from outside the region, has begun to flow in to make the most of the exemplary conditions in this region, but with the clear intention to limit yields and boost quality. And in the the expansive Minervois region, this is exactly the sort of work that the Augustin family has undertaken.

The Augustins are family whose roots in viticulture reach down and back to the 1870s, but in a place that might be the most diametrically opposed to the Languedoc in every way imaginable, name the chilly, northerly, and world-renowned white sparkling region that goes by the name of Champagne. And compared to Champagne, raising vines in Minervois is easier than sliding down a greased pole.

The Augustins’ vineyard is located in what is probably the hottest and driest area within the large Minervois A.O.C. (a designation it received in 1985), which is locally known as the Balconies Aude. In addition to the semi-arid weather, this area is possessed with a nearly perfect composite soil made up of a mix of clay, limestone and sandstone, a blend which is not only extremely vine-friendly, it perfectly retains what little rain does fall, allowing the vines to produce intensely-flavored fruit derived from the climate, but without any of the pruney and clumsy flavors that come from vines grown in stonier, quicker-draining soils found elsewhere in the region.

This particular cuvee` completely shuns the often unfairly slagged off and most traditional grape from this area, Carignan, in favor of the Northern Rhone’s noblest black-skinned grape Syrah (60%) with equal parts of the decidedly traditional and local varieties Grenache and Mourvedre orbiting the central Syrah body. To preserve the natural intense olfactory sensations offered up by this combination of grapes and terroir, the wine ages for a fairly short stint in 1/3 new, 1/3 first passage and 1/3 second passage medium-sized French oak barrels, a regimen that perfectly polishes the wine without obscuring the quite particular blend of grapes and the intense yet elegant character given to the wine by the terroir. Regretably, lots of wines from Minervois, and indeed all over Languedoc, are still flabby, “hot”, and dominated by heavy, stewed flavors, but this wine is definitely NOT one of those; on the contrary, this wine represents a clear and pretty snapshot of Minervois’ best present and its brightest future.

I matched this burly but still nuanced and graceful wine with a pureed chick pea, tomato and leek soup followed by a grilled and sliced top round cut of beef with a thyme and mushroom gravy and a side of mashed potatoes blended with grated zucchini and perfumed with roasted garlic

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Chateau Fabas Minervois Mourral Rouge 2010

Bright, deep crimson/purple color. Earthy but still very elegant aromas of black cherry, myrtle, black raspberry, coal smoke, licorice, dried Mediterranean herbs, sandalwood and licorice. The palate is full, dense, firm, chewy and supple in texture with tall but polished tannins and a crunchy acidity that projects flavors of plum, strawberry preserves, mulberry, black olives, dark spices, and mocha. Long, warm and dry finish.

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