Confusion Corner: Corbières, Cabardès, Cabrières

The corner of France known as the Languedoc currently contains no less than 21 appellations (protected designations of origin for wine/AOCs). A few of these AOCs also include a long list of sub-appellations, including the Languedoc AOC, home to 11 sub-appellations (better known as “geographic designations” and often referred to as “crus”).

That’s already confusing for a wine lover. It gets even more mind-boggling when we consider that three of them are named as follows: Corbières, Cabardès, and Cabrières. Read those again: Corbières, Cabardès, and Cabrières. Although they may sound alike (at least to my ear), they are indeed three different regions, and while I have them grouped firmly together in the part of my brain I call confusion corner, they all deserve a flashcard (or two) all on their own. Let’s see what those flashcards might say:

Corbières: The Corbières AOC—one of the biggest and best-known appellations of the Languedoc—is a large, somewhat-squared shaped region stretching nearly 37 miles/59 km across, from the coastal plain just south of the town of Narbonne into the foothills of the Pyrenees. The eastern/coastal area tends the be the warmest section, made so by the moderating influences of the Mediterranean Sea and two large lagoons—the Étang de Bages and the Étang de L’Ayrolle. The hillier areas—along the area’s southern and western edges—are cooler due to altitude and benefit from the diurnal temperature variations often enjoyed on hillside vineyards.

The Corbières AOC is home to over 2,000 commercial vineyards, covering as much as 33,000 acres/13,500 ha. Red wine is the superstar here; about 85% of the total production is red wine; the remainder consists of rosé (about 12% of the total) and white (3% of the total).

Cityscape of Narbonne

Red wines produced in the Corbières AOC are produced using the (somewhat) typical red grapes of the Languedoc, being based around Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Lladoner Pelut, and Carignan. Rosé is produced using the same base blend of grapes, but more often contains a bit of the accessory varieties (Piquepoul Noir, Grenache Gris, Terret Noir, and Cinsault) as well as a maximum 10% of the region’s white grapes. Both red wines and rosé must contain at least two grape varieties in the blend.

A long list of white grapes is allowed for use in the somewhat rare white wines of the Corbières AOC; these include Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Macabeo, Roussanne, and Vermentino (among others).

Cabardès: The small-production Cabardès AOC is located just to the north of historic walled city of Carcassonne, just a few miles/kilometers to the northwest of Corbières.  Cabardès—situated to the north of the Aude River—is tucked into the foothills of the eastern edge of the Massif Central in a small mountain range known as the Montagne Noire (Black Mountains).

Carcassonne

The location of the Cabardès AOC places it somewhat at the crossroads of the Languedoc (to the east) and Southwestern France (to the west). These dueling influences are seen in the list of approved grapes available for use in the region’s wines. The wines—only red and rosé may be produced—required a minimum 40% (combined) Grenache and Syrah (typical Mediterranean varieties) as well as a minimum of 40% (combined) Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and/or Merlot (typical Atlantic or Bordeaux varieties).

Cabrières: Cabrières is one of the eleven subregions of the Languedoc AOC; as such, wines from the region may be labeled as “Languedoc–Cabrières AOC.” The appellation coincides with the commune of the same name, located along Hérault River (in the Hérault Department) about 50 miles/90 km northeast from Carcassonne. This area is located about 20 miles/32 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea and the Étang de Thau (Thau Lagoon). The village of Cabrières is located in a hilly area on the southwestern edge of the Massif Central within a small mountain range known as the Montagne Noire (Black Mountains); many of the prime vineyards are planted to south- or southeast-facing slopes.

Vineyards surrounding Carcassonne

The Languedoc–Cabrières AOC is approved for red and rosé wines only. Both styles of wine are made from the “typical” red grapes of the Languedoc, and must contain a minimum of two grape varieties, with no one grape comprising more than 65% of the blend. Red wines must contain a minimum 50% of Grenache and/or Syrah with the remainder comprised of Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and/or Carignan. Rosé is a bit more complicated, requiring a minimum of 30% Cinsault, a minimum of 20% Grenache, and a maximum Mourvèdre and/or Syrah. A long list of accessory varieties (including some white grapes, capped at 10%) is also allowed for the rosé.

Note: Rumor has it that the wine makers of Cabrières are in the process of applying to become a separate appellation (AOC). This should come as no surprise as former sub-appellations of the Languedoc AOC have been declared separate appellations several times in the past decade. Examples include Pic-Saint-Loup, La Clape, and Terrasses du Larzac. We shall see what the future holds for Cabrières!

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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