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!

Last week, I had a delegation from Naked Wines customers visit the vineyard. The “angels”, as they’re called on the website, tasted several wines from the region the day before. And they had expressed some curiosity about the term garrigue that comes up all the time when tasting wines from this area. Garrigue refers to the underbrush in the region, but it can include a lot of different plants.

I wrote a post about some of the plants around the vineyard and I took cuttings which the angels got to smell. Here is a video of the experience taken by one of the visitors.

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.

Garrigue plant cuttings

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
  • Rosemary
  • Cypress (top right corner)
  • Wild Carrot
  • Fennel
  • Blackberries
  • Thyme

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.


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.  😀

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.