The wines of the Corbières and Fitou areas
By Richard James
This Guide was last updated on 03 February 2010
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Close to the Fitou appellation and impossibly balanced on solid rock, the Cathar fortress Château Quéribus, near Cucugnan perches at around 700 metres altitude. © Mick Rock/Cephas
The Corbières is a vast area of outstanding beauty, as well as being the name of the mini-mountain range that characterises much of this micro-region. It extends from the outskirts of Narbonne, almost to Carcassonne and down to the ‘border’ between the Aude and Pyrénées Orientales departments (where the Côtes du Roussillon Villages AC starts), marked by green hills and ragged rock faces, wild scrubland and diverse flora and fauna (watch out for wild boar!). The rest is endless vineyard land though much has been grubbed up over the last few years. The focus has increasingly been on producing less volume, and the Corbières is now buzzing with some of the finest estates in the south.
The first tentative effort at breaking down this massive appellation into smaller, more distinctive subzones has started with the area around Boutenac. If this proves successful - and so far the jury’s still out despite the quality of some of these new wines - we might see other ‘terroirs’ following suite such as Lagrasse, Durban or Lézignan. It's also encouraging to see that old vine Carignan is playing a significant role in this revival, instead of being ripped up and replaced by yet more universal Syrah.
The Fitou appellation is a bit confusing: there’s the maritime or coastal part around Fitou town itself; and a second chunk (arguably the best terrain) around Tuchan, divided by the Corbières appellation in the middle. It’s a bit of a mystery, drenched in fiery local politics, why these two separate zones developed under the same banner given the differences in landscape and climate. However, it’s definitely worth turning off the main road from Narbonne to Perpignan to have a look around the town of Fitou and then head off for the hills.
This region’s landscape is very varied ranging from flat coastal areas to the Hautes-Corbières hills, the Pyrenees and inland to southeast of Carcassonne. The coastal areas have mainly clay and limestone soils, just inland from here the soil is poor and stony, and then moving west again there is a strip of red limestone. Those vineyards situated at high altitude in the rocky Pyrenees foothills on their southern border, have lower average temperatures and chalky soils.
This micro-region has a Mediterranean climate with summer temperatures often exceeding 30°C and little rainfall. There is usually more cloud and rain around the coastal corner and Narbonne than inland and further south. Nevertheless, drought is a major threat to the vineyards, since this is one of the driest regions in France. On the other hand, violent thunderstorms, particularly in early autumn, and strong winds can cause damaging erosion.
By road the most direct route from Paris takes just over seven hours using motorways nearly all the way: A10, A71, then right to the end of the A75, which crosses the river Tarn on the tallest road bridge in the world, the Millau Viaduct, completing the journey on the A9 (these two motorways are supposed to finally join together in 2010). By train, the TGV runs direct to Montpellier, and onto Narbonne, and takes about three and a half hours from Paris. There are airports serving various European destinations at Montpellier, Carcassonne, Perpignan and Béziers-Agde; Toulouse is the closest for transatlantic flights.
Narbonne Tourist Office,
31 Rue Jean Jaurès, 11100 Narbonne
CIVL - Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc ,
6 Place des Jacobins, 11100 Narbonne
Tel: 04 68 90 38 30
Maison des Terroirs en Corbières,
Le Château, 11200 Boutenac
Tel: 04 68 27 73 00
Maison des Vignerons du Fitou,
Aire de la Via Domitia, 11480 La Palme
Languedoc-Roussillon General Tourist Information
Les Vignerons de la Clape
ZAC Bonne Source, 11100 Narbonne
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