The vast majority of the wine produced in the region is red, typically made from a blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre, carignan, cinsault, and/or petit verdot.
Chateau de L'Engarran
One of several chateaux still inhabited and operated in the area, Chateau de L'Engarran is an 18th century chateau located on land with vineyards dating back to the early 17th century. It's run by the sister-sister team of Diane Losfelt and Constance Rérolle.
Chateau de L'Engarran
The old chateau, magnificently restored on the façade, shows its age and charm when you walk around to the back gardens, which are watched over by lion-shaped statues, for which several of their wines are named.
Barrel Room at Chateau de L'Engarran
Gravel and round stone soils lead to wines with less pronounced minerality than grapes grown in shale. Chateau de L'Engarran's wines show distinct fruitiness with and light spicing. If you like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, you'll probably find something you like here.
The region is known more for its lighter, fruit-forward wines than wines heavily flavored with oak, but many producers age some portion of their wines in oak barrels for a few months before blending to give them balance. The rest of the wine is aged in stainless, fiberglass, or concrete.
I saw many wineries using fiberglass tanks. Diane Losfelt told us that in many ways, they're superior to steel. The tops of the tanks can be lowered to fit the level of the wine, preventing oxidation, and they're translucent, allowing winemakers to monitor levels of sediment in white or rosé wines.
The Grés de Montpellier Bottle
Branding is as important for winemakers as it is for shoe distributors. Bottle design, label design, and packaging material all figure into a wine's image. Here, the owners show off the new Grés de Montpellier bottles, which every producer in the appellation is gradually switching to.
Shellfish in the Rock
At Chateau de Flaugergues, another producer in Montpellier, winemaker Pierre de Colbert points out fossilized shellfish in the stones surrounding the gardens—an indication of the ocean that used to cover the area, and the resulting graded shale soil essential to the quality of the grapes grown here.
Chateau de Flaugergues
Chateau de Flaugergues' gardens and interior are open to visitors, as is Folio, a new restaurant on the grounds where guests can dine and taste wines at the same time. Many of the producers we visited were making an effort to increase their tourism trade. Aside from wine, it's the only other major industry in the region.
Chateau de Flaugergues
Walking through the magnificent rooms of the chateau, it's easy to remember that it's still very much an occupied living space.
In the library, a two volume book containing hand-drawn images of thousands of grape varieties sat open on the table.
Chateau de Flaugergues
Children's toys are strewn under centuries-old chairs, or packed into old wine cases.
The concept of offering dining options for visitors is a new development designed to turn wine tasting into a destination activity. "This idea of eating a meal while buying wine did not exist in France before," explains Pierre. "But it has been working very well for us."
I couldn't agree more. The food, a seasonal prix-fixe menu, featured local ingredients with preparations that were largely French, but with both Spanish and Italian influences. Sunday afternoon saw an open courtyard packed with guests sipping on Grés de Montpellier while picking at their salades gourmandes and risotto with seafood.
L'Abbaye de Fontfroide
The Abbaye de Fontfroide in Corbières is another wine producer getting into the food-based tourism trade. The converted 12th century Cistercian abbey has gorgeous stone dining halls and chapels, a rose garden, and a first-rate restaurant serving local wines along with the food.
Lunch at L'Abbaye de Fontfroide
PIckled white sardines with pesto and olives on puff pastry with a fresh salad of lettuce and tomato showcases the region's bounty.
Cordon de Royat
In the Grés de Montpellier appellation, vines must be pruned in one of two manners: Either as a cordon de royat—a single trunk with an arm extending in either direction along parallel wires, like a link of people holding hands, or as…
…a gobelet, a goblet-shaped bush. The choice between the two largely comes down to the sturdiness of the grape. Carignan is the grape most commonly grown in this style, as it has a strong trunk, and the low-to-the-ground goblet style helps stave off the botrytis and other diseases it's prone to.
The sedimentary rock called schiste (shale) in Faugères tends to yield grapes with a pronounced minerality.
During a morning stroll through Corbières with some of the region's producers, the pervasive smell of the garrigue never left the air.
Apart from grapes, olives are the most important crop of the region, though almond trees are not an uncommon sight. I happened to be in Languedoc during green bitter almond season.
Fruits de Mer
The dry breeze never lets you forget how close to the Mediterranean you are, but just in case, get yourself a platter of fruits de mer. This one is from Jardins de la Mer in Bouzigues. Fresh seafood cooked over dried grape vines and all manner of raw and gently cooked shellfish are served on the patio overlooking an oyster farm.
Dinner was accompanied by a Blanquette de Limoux from producer Gilles Louvet. Bright, bubbly, and dry with a hint of honey and menthol on the palate, it was the perfect wine for the grilled turbot I had.
Laboratory at Sieur d'Arques
Sieur d'Arques produces Crémant de Limoux on a massive scale, and as such requires constant testing using state of the art equipment to maintain quality standards.
Samples for testing at Sieur d'Arque.
The Sieur d'Arque facility was a good five to six times larger than any other winery I saw in the region.
Maison Antech, another one of the large producers of bubbly Cremant de Limoux, uses massive bottling machinery to disgorge the bottles and add stoppers and labels.
The medieval walled city of Carcassonne draws tourists from around the world.
Marilyn Manson Fans
Just my luck that the one night I'm spending in a tiny medieval city the size of four square blocks, there happens to be a Marilyn Manson concert going on. The city was crawling with aging goth kids. I did get my chair at an outdoor cafe physically lifted and moved—with me still in it—when one of Manson's roadies had to get his motorcade by, so there's a story, I guess.
Foie Gras and Fresh Peaches
You can't go to Southern France and not eat foie gras. Some of the best ducks in the world come from the region, and local menus are swimming in foie gras, confit de canard, sausages, and duck fat.