Narbonensis (now Narbonne) was the Roman capital of the Languedoc. They even diverted the course of the river Aude around the west and south of the settlement to create a harbour. The river has since reverted to its original course leaving a string of shallow saltwater lagoons which are now bird sanctuaries (don’t miss the stunning flamingos at Gruissan).
The Massif de la Clape is the name given to a large rocky limestone hill between the city of Narbonne and the sea. It was actually a separate island until the Aude silted up in the Middle Ages. This is possibly the first vineyard area that the Romans planted, it was certainly their favourite since these were the wines that were proudly shipped back to Rome as the best of the region.
Rainfall here is very low, the grapes being able to survive thanks to frequent coastal mists and the cooling effect of the sea breezes. The wines are distinct and high quality, thanks to stringent regulation. The vibrant reds are made from a majority of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, with lovely aromatic whites from Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc.
There are plenty of places to recommend for a tasting: Chateau de la Negly, Chateau Pech-Celeyran, and Camplazens for example, but our favourite is Chateau Angles. It is owned and run by Eric Fabre, former technical director at Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, and his family and you are assured a charming and very friendly welcome. We were first attracted by their barrel-aged Bourboulenc, but now love their elegant Mourvedre-led reds.
A good day out is a trip to the wonderful Les Halles food market in Narbonne, stopping also at the impressive cathedral and the remains of the Roman Via Domitia, followed by an afternoon at the beach or a browse around the bohemian fishing village of Gruissan where Betty Blue was flimed, with a wine tasting to finish off.