AOC Cabardes Organoleptic Testing - Quality Approval Tasting

This morning, the Cabardes did one of its regular organoleptic test flights.  That’s a pretty fancy way to say we get together and taste newly bottled Cabardes wine.

The primary purpose of these tastings is quality control.  We want to make sure that everybody is putting their best foot forward with their Cabardes wines.  But it’s a pretty intimidating prospect.

tasting station at cabardes organoleptic testYou get there in the morning and you have a little desk set up with paper, pen, spit bucket, etc.  It feels a lot like I’m back in school except for the two wine glasses and plate of bread.

There are five of us on the tasting panel.  We have a flight of 12 wines.  The tasting is partial single-blind.  That means that we, the tasters, don’t know what cuvées we’re tasting.  Although they do tell us the vintage since that is pretty important to determining whether or not it’s up to snuff.  There is a third party organisme d’inspection that is hired to make sure all of the tasting is legit.  They also do our field and winery inspections throughout the year.  They report the results to our ODG Cabardes and they also forward it on to the INAO, the national body that governs AOCs.

If we find one of the wines to be flawed or not Cabardes-y enough, we could declare it NON CONFORME and the winemaker would be admonished.  If the wine is already on the market and it’s a first offense, the winemaker would be followed very closely on his next vintage.  And if its a second offense, we can even call for the wine to be removed from the market.  That’s a lot of power.  And everybody has to fight so hard to get wines on the market, it seems absurd that we might have to take one off the market.  But such are the rules!

Anyway, today’s tasting went very well.  The quality was good to very good for the three rosés and nine reds we tasted.  I noted one weak objection on the last wine in the tasting that had a bit of reductive rubber/tar quality to it.  The rest of the panel approved of the wine, and I’m honestly happy because it was a good wine and I think the free market will naturally select the best wines in the Cabardes.  This tasting is more of a formality to prevent gross misconduct.

Perhaps the best part of these tastings is that you get to see what the other producers are up to.  Although they never reveal what you tasted.  Cabardes is small enough that I can just ask around and the people who had to give samples to the inspection organization will know who they are.  And it’s fun to see what the AOC is up to as a whole.  And it’s a timely lesson as I put the finishing touches on my Cabardes book and map of the wineries in the appellation.

The tasting is supposed to be more focused on defects than traditional wine criticism, but I took some notes anyway.  The keywords that kept coming up were dark fruit, plum, and garrigue.  There were also two or three mentions of eucalyptus, spice, and pepper in my notes.  One of the wines came off with an absurd amount of ripe raspberry or red fruit and really reminded me of certain coastal wines (which can happen in the eastern Cabardes).  And there were a couple that felt a bit rustic and a couple that felt a bit light (if I were in a bad mood, I’d say weedy), but this is a style and it has a place in the appellation. At least it’s not me who will put an end to that trend.

Anyway, on the whole, I feel like the wines presented were well-balanced between Atlantic and Mediterranean traits.  They were bold and flavorful but they were also rather refreshing with a brightness that is somewhat unique to the Cabardes.  Amen!

More wine!

Oh wow, I forgot how much I love maps.

I’ve been playing around in Google Maps and it’s really fun.  Some of you might know that I’m working on a book about the AOC Cabardes and the wines north of Carcassonne.  And so I’ve built a big directory and I’m defining certain climactic zones.  Blah blah blah.  But I took a few hours here and there to plot it down onto a 3D terrain map in Google Earth.  And it’s gorgeous.

google earth screenshot cabardes wine map

I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to use Google Earth maps in my work.  I’ll have to scour Google Permissions later.  But what I can do is share the work so far.

To view in Google Earth, you have to download Google Earth and then use it to open Cabardes.kml

To view the less awesometastic version, just look at my customized google map of the Cabardes.  You won’t need to download anything.  It’s set so you can make modifications, but don’t do anything cheeky.

Making wine maps is pretty sweet.  If you have any ideas on how to format it or what I should add or anything else, feel free to speak up.  Oh, I took out three of the cooperatives because they produce very little Cabardes and are on the outside of the AOC zone.  If you know the location of the vines that contribute to the Cabardes of those cooperatives, please let me know and I will gladly add the vines to the map.

If you’re wondering what the big splashes of color represent, those are different zones within the Cabardes.  An explanation of this map or one like it will be included in the upcoming ebook Introduction to Cabardès along with a directory of these producers and an introduction to the region’s wine and history.

The winemakers of the Cabardes all got together recently for a dinner in the events room at Chateau Pennautier, often billed as the Versailles of the Languedoc.  It wasn’t the Hall of Mirrors, but it was very cozy and the food was delicious.  Naturally, we all brought wine along, so we drank well too.

One of the most interesting parts of the dinner for you all was probably the short discussion we had right before breaking bread.  Instead of saying grace, we talked shop regarding the new CIVL initiative to divide the plethora of Languedoc AOPs into Grands Crus, Grands Vins, and the rest.

The discussion was Cabardes-centric.  Since we were provisionally placed in the Grands Vins category, we are trying to find a way to get bumped up to Grands Crus.  The video shows Nicolas de Lorgeril (owner of Pennautier) and Olivier Ferraud (Chamber of Agriculture technician and a sort of manager for the Cabardes).  De Lorgeril talks about how we might be able to shift the entire AOP into the standards that the CIVL has set forth for Grands Crus.  Then Olivier talks about how we might also point out that those standards are flawed, favoring appearances over actual quality.

After this little speech we all start eating and I asked a few more questions, but it would have been weird/rude/difficult to film.  The subtext of the video presentation is that the new CIVL hierarchy is still malleable.  This may come as a surprise to all the people who read about it in the trade lately. But the truth is, it’s not yet a law. It’s more a marketing maneouver.  Olivier actually said it was marketing and corrected himself by saying “Communications”.  From his tone, it seemed like he was borrowing that term from the CIVL itself.

This supports my theory that the CIVL owns some kind of trademark on “grands vins du Languedoc” and “grands crus du Languedoc” and they get to decide who puts it on the bottles.  While I believe any AOC wines were allowed to carry the phrase “grand vin du Languedoc” on their labels in previous years, the new hierarchy means the CIVL will now try to prevent certain winemakers from using the phrase unless they meet those requirements.

That explains why the Cabardes ODG (among others, probably) is trying to lobby to get moved up a little.  It seems reasonable to ask for a small amount of time to adapt to the standards the CIVL put forward.  Mostly, that means selling your wine a little less cheap to raise average price. And lowering yield.  Unless we can convince them that they should take foliage into account (a ratio of yield over surface area of leaves).

Anyway, interesting discussion, right?

Another point that came up was that while it’s not a law yet, we all assume the CIVL will seek INAO approval or some sort of legislative reinforcement for this marketing/communications strategy so that it can be comparable to the Classification of 1855 or the Grands Crus in Bourgogne.  Just looking for a little legitimacy.

There’s probably a whole other post to be written on the intriguing switch from legislation to marketing.  While INAO classification used to be the end-all for wine prestige, modern efforts start at the trademark office.  And doesn’t that make sense?  Few people can make any sense of the intricate European wine laws that have built up over the centuries.  In a market dominated by brand-building, maybe the interprofessions are correct to move away from politics and toward marketing spheres.  Grands Crus du Languedoc, Sud de France, etc.

What do all these letters mean?

I recently wrote about Lilian Bauchet getting controlled.   Those of you who read French, check out Lilian’s whole post as he does a good job of explaining the rather convoluted delineation between the various organizations in the alphabet soup that legislates our vineyards. ODG, INAO, CIBAS, ETC.

For those of you who don’t really read French, here is my explanation:

Basically (hah!), to make AOP wines (AOC is now called AOP, stick with me), you have to belong to an ODG. The ODG has a constitution that states all the rules of your AOP. The ODG sends that constitution to the INAO which is a national organization that will approve your constitution or recommend modifications. Then, there are independent control groups which are tasked with the enforcement and management of certain bureaucratic procedures tied to the ODGs. These control groups vary by region but are always INAO-approved. And working with them is not optional. So essentially they are INAO-mandated, but if they do something wrong, the INAO can just say “oh well you have to complain to them not us”. In Lilian’s story, the control group is the CIBAS, but in my region it’s the OI (I think).

Also, the INAO encourages the ODG to perform regular and random auto-controls where we inspect each other’s vines. Then the control group like the CIBAS just has to control a portion of our controls to verify that we’re doing a good job on our own. This is probably why the dude checking Lilian’s vines out was a grape growing neighbor of his.

And you can’t just lump all the abbreviations and wine laws together.  Because while the majority of these letters belong to a similar group, some function independently or parrallel to the above acronyms.  The CIVL, CIVR, CIVB, etc. are interprofessional groups.  They are supposed to represent all growers.  They are technically separate from the AOPs even though most AOPs are adherents that pay to be represented by the region’s CIV.

Furthermore, the IGP system is a more centralized European classification that doesn’t necessarily have any correlation whatsoever to AOP, VDQS, VDP, or VDT classifications.

And then you have all the regional bodies that aren’t law makers but essentially marketing and events firms like Sud de France, InterRhone(?), Vins de Bordeaux(?), SOPEXA(?), etc.

What do the actual letters stand for?  Good question.. I think the following:

  • INAO- Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (although their own website says it stands for “Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité” but INdlOedlQ was less catchy.)
  • AOC- Appellation d’Origine Controlée
  • AOP- Appellation d’Origine Protegée (exactly like AOCs but with ironically more Controls)
  • ODG- Organisme de Défense et de Gestion
  • OI-  ???? the inao-approved group that Cabrdes ODG uses to enforce our rules
  • CIBAS- ??? the inao-approved group that Bourgogne sometimes uses
  • IGP- Indication Géographique Protégée
  • CIVL- Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Languedoc
  • CIVR- Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon
  • CIVB- Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Bordeaux
  • BIVB- Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne
  • VDQS- Vin de Qualité Superieur
  • VDP- Vin de Pays
  • VDT- Vin de Table, soon to become Vin de France(?)

So there. You don’t need to ask what does AOC stand for anymore.  Now you know.  And you also know that you’re supposed to be asking what AOP stands for.  Keep up with the times!

How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing

North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Best by GPS.
    Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
  4. At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.