Corbières & Minervois 2022 vintage rating: 4 / 5
Corbières & Minervois 2021 vintage rating: 3 / 5
Despite the rumbling autoroute that forges east-west through its heart and the sea of towering wind turbines that stand like sentinels, Corbières is still a wild, roughhewn landscape, a lumpy and scraggy expanse of vines and garrigue.
It’s a huge appellation: by far the largest in the Languedoc both in terms of production (around 270,000hl per year) and area under vine (8,300ha). As Rosemary George MW says in her 2018 book Wines of the Languedoc, ‘the particularity of Corbières is the diversity of its terroir, for both soil, which is mainly clay limestone, and climate, ranging from Oceanic in the far west to a warm Mediterranean climate on the coast.’
This diversity is a strength (varieties and blends differ significantly depending on location, and Carignan is of particular note), but also a weakness (despite its size and potential, it has only come up with one cru, Boutenac).
Corbières’ neighbour Minervois abuts the Montagne Noire on its northern flank, and also has just one cru – La Livinière.
Scroll down to see tasting notes and scores for the top Corbières & Minervois wines from 2022 & 2021
The growing season
After a mild winter and spring, April frosts hit many areas of the Corbières with merciless force. ‘In some plots, including Syrah, Cinsault, Grenaches Blanc and Gris and some Carignan, we lost 80% to frost,’ says Xavier Ledogar, owner and winemaker at Domaine Ledogar, ‘we had a tiny crop.’
It was a common occurance across the appellation: ‘We had a terrible frost on 8 April which lasted three weeks,’ says Clémence Fabre, export manager at Famille Fabre, ‘we lost 80% of the crop across our five domaines.’
‘We couldn’t make all of our cuvées,’ says Fabre, ‘it was the smallest volumes we’d ever made. My father went back through three generations of archives and there has never been frost so bad and so late in the year. The government allowed us to buy in bunches of grapes and vinify them.’
Such catastrophic loss at an outfit with five domaines across multiple different terroirs is alarming. ‘In general, given we have domaines in different areas, we normally come off ok when there is disease pressure or episodes of frost, but this time it was across the board,’ says Fabre.
After losing 50% of his crop in 2021, Maxime Magnon decided to buy vines in a completely different terroir, 20km away around Peyriac-de-Mer, ‘in order to diversify in terms of terroir, not to have everything so close together,’ he says. In theory this insurance policy minimises risk – but as 2021 shows, it doesn’t work every time.
‘It’s a heavy atmosphere, being a paysan, with such climate pressure,’ says Magnon.
Some areas also had rain around harvest time, which ‘caused a slow down in ripening,’ says Céline Peyre of Domaine Balansa.
The Minervois was affected by the frosts too, reducing yield, and temperatures in the summer were slightly cooler than usual. Yet the climate in the Minervois is less extreme than the Corbières, the winds somewhat tempered by the Montagne Noire, the frost somewhat less severe.
Those that had enough grapes left to make wine were rewarded with good concentraion. Some 2021 whites had a lovely rich expression of citrus fruit, and the best show some opulent honeysuckle florals alongisde a stony, mineral core.
Like the whites, some of the 2021 reds have impressed. Some of the higher-scoring wines have high percentages of Carignan, and some of the best wines have achieved full-bodied bramble characters and a nice succulence. Some show slightly pokey alcohol.
The majority of the Minervois wines tasted for this report were from the cru La Livinière. Due to ageing requirements (until at least the 15 October of the year following the vintage), most La Livinière wines being released are 2021 and 2020. Despite the challenges of 2021, the quality is good, and the wines, especially from La Livinière, have a seductive aromatic profile, good concentration and length.