P1080475At night, a welcome cool breeze slips through the open windows, along with the low growl of grape harvesting machines already toiling as early as three a.m. Wayward grapes stain the sidewalks and streets of the village. spilled-grapesWithin the time we’ve lived here, the harvest has gone from being all-hands-on-deck to being something that happens in our peripheral vision. The fête du village is always Aug. 15, a last fling before grindingly long days of harvesting. The village gym class didn’t start until after the vendange, because nobody had time for exercise when the vineyards were in full swing. Eventually, only two gym-goers were working with wine.P1080437

French wine is celebrated for its quality, and rightly so. Sure, you can find some bad stuff, but that’s the exception, not the rule. The AOCs–appellation d’origine côntrolée, a kind of certificate of quality linked to geographic location–are a very safe bet. Each AOC has strict rules about what winemakers can and can’t do with their wines, including which cépages, or varietals, they can include.machine-caunesLots of people overlook the AOCs because they require some memory work. AOCs generally are blends of varietals, and the wines that are trendy tend to be monocépage, or single varietal, like Chardonnay or Cabernet sauvignon or Pinot noir. One AOC that’s monocépage is Burgundy, with Pinot noir for red and Chardonnay for white. As far as marketing, it’s easier to sell a Cab or a Syrah/Shiraz than a Minervois that’s predominantly one or the other, with some other varietals mixed in. That mix is the special cocktail, the individualism. When I was in the U.S., most wine stores offered only a few, well-known French options, and the shopkeepers would explain that AOCs were just too complicated for customers.grapesLet me tell you, nothing is easier.

Look at the bottle. If it has high shoulders, it’s in the style of Bordeaux, which are mostly Merlot and Cabernet sauvignon for reds. These are fuller, bolder wines. A local favorite for this style in Minervois is Domaine la Tour Boisée (which also produces wines, like 1905, in the Burgundy style).P1080704If the bottle has sloping shoulders, it’s in the style of Burgundy, even if it doesn’t contain pinot noir. That means soft, complex wines. One of our favorite wineries is Château St. Jacques d’Albas, which uses a lot of Syrah in its red Minervois wines.P1080705Around Carcassonne, one finds several AOCs: Minervois, Cabardès, Malpère, with Corbière and Limoux a bit farther. Minervois, Cabardès and Malpère are some of the smallest AOCs in France, made up mostly of very small, family wineries.amid-vines-villalierBefore the vendange, taking grapes is theft, but after, the left-behind fruit is fair game. (Beware of the vendange tardive, or late harvest–those aren’t for taking either! The grapes are left on the vine until they start to dry out, to make dessert wine. It’s pretty easy to tell when a vineyard has been harvested–no big bunches are left).  Though it’s mostly the sangliers, or wild boars, that snarf up the last grapes.hand-picked-1

20 thoughts on “Picking Wine

  1. How fabulous; I know a bit about wines and I know to differenciate between my Bordeaux and Bourgognes (and all the others) but I NEVER realised up to now about the sloping and pulled-up shoulders. You are a treasure chest – and I shall drink to your health! Santé

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was informative. I shall never look at the shape of a bottle the same again. The wine in your region is wonderful, but then again it’s France…n’est pas?
    Arrived yesterday. Our luggage arrived on the next flight. Today mostly in a stupor.
    Will email when my brain circuitry is fully working…..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very useful information, merci. I love being able to browse in a French grocery for lots of different wines, in the US the selection is very limited, and retailers tend to push domestic stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s worth hunting down the French wines. When I was in the U.S., I found some very good ones that were not more expensive than local plonk from vineyards that make up their own rules. French wine is held to strict regulations.


  4. HIGH VERSES LOW……………NOW how will I remember BURGUNDY verses BORDEAUX?
    BorDEAUX has an “O” in it for LOW!THATS HOW!!!!!!!!!!
    I need a VISUAL!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Very good point about the bottle shapes, which I had more or less figured out but never actually considered. I’m a sloping shoulders type in reds, with my fetish favourite being Beaumes de Venise. But I find most serious French wine drinkers go for the tall Bordeaux-style bottles. I guess it’s just a question of taste — I must be fruity! 🤪

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wine is about personal tastes, so no judgments allowed–except one: paying too much for a crummy bottle (because of being sucked into some story about the wine or the process or the winemaker, when the story is fake).


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