I was tasting wine at the Salon d’Aniane recently with some friends from the Bourgogne, and they were teasing me because virtually ALL of the winemakers here talk about garrigue in their wines. Now, garrigue is a word that means very little once you leave France, and apparently doesn’t even make the rounds in every part of France. I get the sense that old science textbooks used to make sure every little boy and girl knew the various types of plant life that grew around their country. And we’ve had to drop that section from textbooks to make space for genetics, plastics, OGMs, and weird debates about whether Pluto is a planet or not.
Anyway, I have a delegation of Angels coming from Naked Wines later today. And they had also asked about this garrigue that we kept referring to. Our winemaker host, Benjamin Darnault, did an excellent job of verbally describing the garrigue and even cooked with a couple fresh herbs from the shrubland. It’s the shrubland common to the warm, rocky soils in the south of France. You’ll find a lot of rosemary, thyme, and lavender. These tend to be the three that people identify most commonly when you ask them to list what’s in garrigue.
Instead of trying to compete with this excellent description, I’ve taken the time to cut a few of the plants around the vineyard and I’ll be able to share some of the smells with the Naked delegation arriving in half an hour.
You can see what I’ve cut in the photo. From left to right, top to bottom:
- Fig leaf
- Cypress (top right corner)
- Wild Carrot
A freshly cut fig leaf is FULL of milky sap that smells just like the sap from a ripe fig. The stems smell almost like sugar cane. It’s not really thought of as garrigue because figs are clearly trees and they need a lot more water than the shrubland plants, but you will often find figs growing on the ruisseaus and small waterways AROUND garrigue. I’ve got about five trees all around our vineyard.
Rosemary, like I said is a more classic garrigue plant. Highly aromatic and sometimes a bit menthol-y or smokey. This is a necessary part of the shrubland tour.
Cypress is VERY common in garrigue and is often left off the list. That crisp evergreen scent is a quintessential note in some of the region’s wines though.
Queen Anne’s Lace, called Wild Carrot sometimes, is a relative of our domesticated carrots that looks a lot like Hemlock. Crushed, it gives off a sort of medicinal smell and again ties into that menthol quality that clears out your nostrils.
Fennel is in the same family of smells as anais and licorice. It’s very very aromatic. If somebody mows a plant on the side of the road, you can smell it in a car with the windows rolled up for a hundred yards around. My mom often cures fish with salt and fennel.
Blackberries aren’t in season yet, as you can tell from the photo, but I wanted to include at least one wild berry because I want to fight this sense that they aren’t a part of the garrigue. When people smell berries, they list them seperately, but then they’ll lump a lot of other plants together in this umbrella garrigue. But fruit like blackberries can grow all over the place here. They are low, thorny vines that offer protection for the rabbits, hares, birds, and other small fauna native to the garrigue.
Thyme is thyme. Like rosemary, I’d be remiss to leave it off the tour. It’s actually much subtler than most of the plants in this photo. You have to really dry it or crush it to make it smell as strong as something like the fennel.
NOT PICTURED HERE:
Lavender. I just don’t find much lavender on the estate. Maybe it’s because I’m in the Atlantic corridor. I see it on other vineyards closer to the Mediterranean. Maybe there’s some other reason. But I just don’t find much of it.
Cyste. I don’t have much of this on the vineyard either but it’s a note that comes up often with locals. A sort of sticky sweet floral note that sounds really farfetched but you’ll feel incredible the first time you identify it in a wine. It’s totally there. 😀