Minervois

Minervois is an appellation for distinctive red wines from the western Languedoc in France. In general, they are more supple than those produced in Corbières, just to the south. The Minervois title also covers rosé and white wines.

The appellation takes its name from Minerve, a village 25 miles (40km) from the Mediterranean coast and surrounded by the southern French foothills. The village, by turn, is named after the Greek goddess Minerva. This is just a glimpse of the town's connections with ancient history; there are cave paintings in the local caves which date back more than 30,000 years, and fossilised footprints have been found which confirm human movements here more than 8,000 years ago. The town's wine history is also impressively long; archaeological evidence shows that viniculture here dates back to early-Roman or even pre-Roman times.

The Minervois appellation was granted in 1985 and since then, the local wines have changed dramatically, gaining praise from critics in France and abroad. As with many French appellations, this increase in quality is due to significant investments in winery equipment and improved vineyard management.

The predominant grape varieties used in AOC Minervois wines are Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, which must collectively make up at least 60% of the blend, possibly complemented by Carignan and Cinsault. The appellation's white wines, which vary considerably in quality and style, are made from Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. White Minervois Blanc is changing with time, becoming increasingly aromatic and refined.

In addition to dry red and white wines, the area has a historical sweet-wine-making tradition. Sweet, white Minervois Noble, as it is known, does not have its own appellation. It is a golden sweet wine made from the same white grapes as its dry counterparts. The grapes are picked when they have reached a high level of sweetness – either as a result of noble rot or by being dried out manually after picking. Similar in style, Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois (a delicate vin doux naturel) is produced to the north of Minervois.

Full or partial carbonic maceration (up to two weeks) is used for vinifying most Minervois Carignan. Other red wine varieties are traditionally fermented for longer periods, with frequent pumping over or punching down to encourage greater extraction. De-stemming is increasingly being used to reduce the tannin levels in Minervois wines, and the reds are generally aged for at least a year before release. Barrel maturation is becoming more common, but the Minervois name can rarely attract prices to justify the cost of this process.

The appellation is cleanly divided into five climatic zones: the Côtes Noires in the far northwest, located on the coolest, most Atlantic-influenced foothills of the Montagne Noire; La Clamoux, on alluvial terraces and flatter land in the southwest towards Carcassonne; La Zone Centrale, in the middle of the appellation, at an altitude of around 1,200ft (400m); La Causse, on high land and poor, dry soils in the northeast, where yields are lowest; and Les Serres, in the warmest, most Mediterranean southeast.
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