castelmaurescv.jpgThe Aude département (11 Languedoc-Roussillon) straddles the Autouroute des Deux Mers (A62) as it heads east from Narbonne towards Toulouse and eventually Bordeaux. The autoroute follows the flattish valley bottom which has for years formed a major transit route, most famously and spectacutlarly with the Canal du Midi, followed by the railway and then the A61 motorway. To the north lies Minervois and to the south is Corbières AC – this is my sort of wine – rich and complex, great body from the Grenache grape and with enough tannin and fruit to make it a wine to savour.

My favourite wine of the region has to be the Grande Cuvée de Castelmaure – because it is a really good wine, but also because we drank it with a superb Cassoulet in a very idiosyncratic restaurant in the heart of the old medieval city of Carcassonne – a memorable ocassion.

We imported this wine for the last few years of our Allez Vins! wine importing business, despite it coming from a Co-operative cellar – so often a recipe for mediocre wines, especially in the south of France. Sure, the winery is rustic, but the approach and the wine is extraordinarily good – in part because it is a small community of vignerons, but also because they have an excellent winemaker who has ensured that quality is the first priority. It’s worth a visit up narrow twisting lanes south of Durban and nearly in Fitou country – a ruggedly beautiful landscape.

Unlike New World wineries, fancy marketing has never been the strong point of the Midi winemakers. However, what they do employ is a lot of words extolling the virtues and mysteries of the local soil, the elusive “terroir”, the traditions and the horny handed skill of the sons of the soil. They have a way of waxing lyrical about what they do which is quite unlike British understatement. Hence my surprise to find that the Castelmaure winery has a new, and very lyrical website – it tells you little of significant interest, but it does it with real flair!

As anyone who has ever got his fingers sticky in the fruity blood of the Grenache grape under the blazing sun of Castelmaure knows full well: wine must have the taste of what it is, its terroir. A taste that rings true. A deep, fundamental, earthy truth that all the frills of vinification and oenology will never manage to replace. But don’t see in that a plea for some obscurantism, for some Virgilian naivety, but wine is, and must remain the child of its earth. Likewise, its sincerity, its grandeur too, pass through the callous hand of the grape-picker, hard work and the respect for a job well done. Wine is a child of the soil and the sweat of men. The grape-harvest, which gushes forth each year from the same barrel as all the old human rituals, betrays the ambiguity of the links that unite Man and Nature. Struggle and love. On the one hand, the Ancients who called the vineyards the “galleys” because of the slope, the stones, and the climate… On the other hand, this vine-grower who secretly talks tenderly to his old vine stocks to congratulate them, to thank them … It is true that here, in Castelmaure, things have changed considerably. The men have changed. The impetus came at the beginning of the eighties. Under the leadership of Patrick de Marien, the chairman, and of Bernard Pueyo, the director, the 70 members of the village old co-op began by asking themselves about their vines : which terroirs? Which varieties? This led them to upgrade the majority of their vines by replacing certain poorly-suited Carignans with Syrahs, Grenaches and, more recently, with Mourvèdres.

It is so French, and who can blame them when they make such great wines.

For more on Castelmaure see

For a map and more info on Corbières see

The wines of Castelmaure are available in the UK from

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