This area to the north of Capendu is what attracted us to the Languedoc in the first place, partly for the beauty of its scenery, but also the amazing flavour of the wines. The vineyards were first established by the Romans in the first century BC, and later developed by the Church, in a subtle landscape of rolling hills north of the Aude river to the foothills of the Montagne Noire, like a large amphitheatre with the Canal du Midi as the stage.
River-cut terraces running down from the mountains create an exciting patchwork of soil types and wine styles.
The reds, made from blends of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan (with a handful of more obscure traditional varieties for intrigue) are highly recommended. The influence of the wind is key here: the Tramontane funnelling down the valley from the north-west brings cool dry air that leads to lighter styles in the west of the region; the Marin brings wetter warmer air from the Mediterranean to the more robust wines in the east.
Look out for the La Liviniere cru appellation on labels. This is used for wines from a central area of the Minervois that are subject to even more stringent quality controls and offer a perfect marriage of the rugged garrigue scents (herbaceous moorland scrub) of the uplands with the suave suppleness of the lowlands.
Most producers also make rose and from Cinsault and Grenache, and aromatic whites from Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, and Rolle (amongst many others). You can even find a few late-harvested barrel-aged sweet wines (Chateau Fabas at Laure is superb).
We particularly like the refined elegance of Villerambert-Julien to the west of Caunes (our favourite rose, but try also the Incarnat and L’Opera reds); La Tour Boisee and Chateau Fabas at Laure for textbook powerful Minervois reds; Domaine Piccinini at La Liviniere (our favourite Minervois white); Clos Centeilles just outside Siran (takes some finding, but a fabulous range of wines); and Massamier La Mignarde, a former Roman commander’s estate near Pepieux which has a phenomenal tasting room with giant old foudres and winemaking artefacts. At all of these places you are assured of great wines, but also of a very personal welcome and a great story.
To make a day of it try the vibrant market at Olonzac on a Tuesday morning, the dramatic Cathar stronghold and river gorges of Minerve, swimming in the river-pool at Bize-Minervois, walking around the four hilltop castles of Lastours, the caves at Limousis and Cabrespine, the medieval abbey and beautiful village of Caunes