Languedoc Rousillon

... And pick up the rental car at the Sants Train Station and get swept into the Placa Espagnol vortex -- motor scooters bouncing off the fenders as you avoid giant swaying buses and transport trucks looking for the only off ramp not identified by name -- that's the one you need. You circle several times tight grip on the wheel get spit out and are completely lost but at least you're free of that madness. You turn a corner and are swept back into it. They eventually tire of batting you around and the current of eurocars flows eventually into a system of mystifying toll expressways that delivers you to the post-EU French border with its abandoned customs booths.

To the village of Coullioure on the Mediterranean where the Fauvists (Matisse, Derain) painted in the early 1900s. The area considers itself at least as Catalan as French and cheers for Barca. Myra swims, we do some laundry. Rick Steves recommended digs. Wooden shutters for doors bang in the wind and open onto the Mediterranean.

We're ready for the next leg: into the Languedoc towards Carcassonne and the market village of Espéraza on the Riviere L'Aude.

Couple of Brit expats escape to the South of France and drop a small fortune into a couple of hundred years old house in Espéraza surrounded by vineyards and the 12th century ruins of the Cathars, pacifist heretics hunted down and slaughtered by Rome and French aristocracy. DaVinci Code devotees from California making pilgrimages. 

In July 1209 armies of the French King and the Catholic Church surrounded Beziers and were in a quandary as to how to separate out for slaughter the about 200 Cathars known to be hiding there. Rome declared it would be fine to slaughter everyone in the town because "God will know his own." Some 20,000 people were killed on a single afternoon.

But back to the vineyards. The Languedoc Rousillon region has long been the largest by volume wine producing region in the world. The stuff that you hear about coming out of taps in France has for the most part been vinted here from nondescript but indestructible grape varieties by the tanker load. Who could have guessed that French wine consumption would fall by over half in just a few years?

Times are tough. Recently I noticed news stories about how the Languedoc wine industry -- and L'Aude district in particular -- had been trying to make end meets:  "Ce n'est pas pinot noir".

Our car and b&b deal includes a morning at Vin Ecole at the Gayda winery. A guided walk thru the vineyards and the winery. Ten in the morning and 8 wines to sample. In the interest of being able to operate an automobile and stay awake for the rest of the day, we spit. "They don't teach girls to spit", says Myra as we clumsily expel wine into or near the jug supplied. Ever the wit says I "Oh, when I think of some of the girls I've known..." Though there's one I announce I refuse to spit: a 2007 syrah/grenache from the small coastal AOC near Narbonne. My notes mention strawberry jam, vanilla and mushroom. Superbe.  The top Languedoc Appellations to watch for: Corbieres and Minervois.


Les Temps des Dames with dancing ladies on the label — one in 1800s silhouette the other modern surrounded by hands and numbers of a clock — Corbieres Appellation 2005 purchased at the market in Mirepoix. Distinctive large timber beam colonnades including wooden gargoyles carved in the beams. Vendor adds to my "grenache?" with "Oui, et carignan et syrah." A very basic q&a conducted entirely in French I commend myself. 5 euros 50. Monday October 5, 2009.

Grain de Malepére 2005. Malepére is the appellation of the Gayda Winery. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Like the cava revelation in Barcelona the life changing discovery in the Languedoc is the champagne style Blanquette de Limoux. La vie est belle!

Sunday is market day and activity begins at dawn to transform the village square into colourful, aromatic, commerce. From basic stalls selling crafts to seriously outfitted vans -- butcher shops, hardware stores, jewelers, setting up and taking down every day travelling from one village to the next.
Bonjour monsieur! Bonjour monsieur! Handshakes and greetings at the Cafe du Pont next door to La Maison b&b as I proceed to les toilettes.

We've ordered bieres (deux) which we're drinking across the narrow road at the river's edge beside le pont over Riviere L'Aude on a warm October 6 evening and I've announced I was off to have a cultural experience.

Old and new meet up in modern Carcassonne.