50 shades of Gris

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grenache gris 3Pinot Gris is possibly the most famous of the gris grapes, a French grape but made world famous by the Italians who have re-christened it Pinot Grigio. I have to be honest I am not a great fan of the stuff that comes out the Vento region of Italy that’s grown and made with no regard other than quantity, has little flavour other than lemon juice and acid and is sold in huge quantities in the pubs around the UK. I call it ‘Château Cardboard’ as for me that is what it tastes of. But give me a glass from Friuli in the very north of that same country where the climate and care of production produces zesty floral wine with a hint of mineral and I will love you for ever.

In fact I’m a big fan of all the gris grapes and often plump for a white wine from a gris grape rather than a blanc if there’s one on offer but I must admit that until I came to Languedoc I hadn’t given them much thought. I was of course conscious of Pinot Gris as the craze for it had begun in the early 2000’s but had not realised that gris grapes occur in many varieties.

The Corbières & Lagrasse

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Corbieres VineyardFor me one of the most beautiful areas close to Carcassonne is the Corbières. It’s a region of many differing landscapes from rolling hills in wide open countryside to deep river gorges and craggy cliffs. There are areas of forest and towards the Pyrenees some impressive mountains and close by the land stretches to touch the Mediterranean Sea. The Corbières is large and the terroirs it contain are so diverse that the wines are considerably different from one end of the region to the other.

Terroir is a beautifully evocative French word used to describe the place where wine is grown and the influence it has on the wines style. The two most important elements of terroir are soil and climate, they are the most influential factors however there are many others such as the shape of the land and if rainfall easy escapes or if the earth traps it and other aspects such as what else is growing naturally in the area. Across Languedoc and spread across the Corbières hills is a low scrubland called garrigue. It enjoys limestone soils and is made up of a dense thicket of aromatic, lime tolerant shrubs including holm oaks, juniper, broom, fennel and cistus intermingled with lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage. The wines grown in the region often have a herby character due to the close proximity of the vineyards and the garrigue.

Carcassonne

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Carcassonne picCarcassonne is actually 2 towns. I remember when I first arrived in the region and a friend suggested we meet for a coffee in the main square in Carcassonne. So I headed for the medieval town perched on the hill and walked into what seemed like the main square which is lined with restaurants and cafes. I chose a pretty spot to sit and order my coffee and waited for my friend to arrive. After 10 minutes she called me and asked where I was? I gave her the name of the cafe and she said there is no such cafe in the main square in Carcassonne, was I sure I was in place Carnot? Sure enough I was in the wrong place. I was in La Cité and she was in the bastide town below which all
locals call Carcassonne. Ch Comtal

So to get your bearings; La Cité is the walled medieval fortified town that sits majestically on the hill on the banks of the Aude river. Directly below is the bas town, a cluster of houses, little chapels, cafes and restaurants that ooze towards Le Pont Vieux, the 12th century bridge that crosses the river Aude and takes you into Bastide Saint-Louis. This so called modern town was built during the reign of King Louis the sun King and was built as all bastide towns were, in a grid system and at the heart of it is place Carnot, the main square.

So what’s to see in these 3 distinctly different parts of Carcassonne, well let’s start with La Cité and work our way down the hill.

Minerve

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The village of MinerveThe village of Minerve is a peaceful and enchanting place and it’s clear for all to see why it’s one of the ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’. 2000 years ago the Romans settled in Languedoc and perhaps the name of this miniscule village stems back to those times. Certainly the village is ancient and in the days of the Cathar crusade would have been known by its Occitan name Menèrba, named after the Roman goddess of wisdom.

wild flowersIt’s possible to approach the village from 3 directions and each gives a unique vista. If coming from the direction of the village of Cessaras you will have a superb view of the ‘Petite Causse’, the name given to stretches of limestone land which in Languedoc is smothered with wild herbs and other Mediterranean plants such as cistus, pine and Juniper. The collective name for these scented plants is ‘garrigue’. The Petit Causse is an ancient land with evidence of mankind from previous millennia. Millions of years ago turbulent river waters sliced a deep gorge across the causse but now the gentle River Cesse trickles lazily going underground during the summer months. Each spring I like to walk these hills and take the now familiar path that crosses the causse and each step I take along the limestone path releases intoxicating aromas of wild thyme warmed by the sunshine. At this time of year the herbs are flowering and are also joined by pretty wild flowers and birdsong is the only sound I hear apart from the crunch of my boots.

Februarys’ News from Languedoc

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NewsletterHeaderWelcome to Februarys’ news roundup from the team at Vin en Vacances. We are getting excited as the new season is about to start and we have some wonderful new wine & food tours and some great wine holidays for you. Read on and I hope we will tempt you to pay the Languedoc a visit this year.

007Happy Birthday Canal du Midi..!
2016 is the 350th anniversary of commencement of work to build the Canal du Midi for it was in 1666 that the first spade sank into the midi soil. There will be many ways to celebrate this important year and to remember the people who worked so hard to create this incredible waterway. Read Wendy’s blog and find out more…

New Tours

Canal du Midi Wine Tours – Our range of tours is growing and this year as well as our very popular Canal du Midi Wine tour we have added the Canal du Midi Epicurean Wine tour. Its a food & wine extravaganza and includes a fabulous wineCanal du Midi tasting cruise.

Lagrasse Food & History Walking Tour – For foodies who also like a bit of history we have a new 3 hour walking tour around the village of Lagrasse which runs every Saturday. After a foodie stroll around the market stalls in the medieval covered market you will enjoy a history stroll around the village and learn some of the fascinating facts about one of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’Find out more…